Justice Stevens and the Ghost of Mayor Daley:

John Fund speculates that Justice Stevens' experience with the rough-and-tumble world of Daley-era Chicago politics may have influenced his decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the decision, grew up in Hyde Park. . . . [He saw] how the Daley machine has governed the city for so many years, with a mix of patronage, contract favoritism and, where necessary, voter fraud.

That fraud became nationally famous in 1960, when the late Mayor Richard J. Daley's extraordinary efforts swung Illinois into John F. Kennedy's column. In 1982, inspectors estimated as many as one in 10 ballots cast in Chicago during that year's race for governor to be fraudulent for various reasons, including votes by the dead.

Mr. Stevens witnessed all of this as a lawyer, special counsel to a commission rooting out corruption in state government, and as a judge. On the Supreme Court, this experience has made him very mindful of these abuses. In 1987, the high court vacated the conviction of a Chicago judge who'd used the mails to extort money. He wrote a stinging dissent, taking the rare step of reading it from the bench. The majority opinion, he noted, could rule out prosecutions of elected officials and their workers for using the mails to commit voter fraud.

Three years later, Justice Stevens ordered Cook County officials to stop printing ballots that excluded a slate of black candidates who were challenging the Daley machine. The full court later ordered the black candidates back on the ballot.

With this experience Justice Stevens was quite ready to accept that the state had sufficient interests in election integrity and voter confidence to justify the Voter ID rule. Thus, Stevens was unwilling to void the Indiana law on the basis of speculative claims about the law's potential impact. As Stevens' opinion stressed, "on the basis of the record that has been made in this litigation, we cannot conclude that the statute imposes 'excessively burdensome requirements' on any class of voters." (Slip. Op. at 18, emphasis added). Further, Stevens had little patience for his colleagues who were more willing to rely upon speculative claims or evidence that was not before the Court, writing in a Footnote (that responded to Justice Souter's dissent): "Supposition based on extensive Internet research is not an adequate substitute for admissible evidence subject to cross-examination in constitutional adjudication." (Slip Op. at 19, FN 20). To some it may be obvious that requiring photo identification to vote is an undue burden on the right to vote. To Justice Stevens, that is a claim that has to supported with record evidence, and such burdens need to be weighed against the state's interests.

I'm still working my way through the opinions. For more on the case, see this round-up of reportage and commentary from Rick Hasen.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Justice Stevens and the Ghost of Mayor Daley:
  2. Supremes Reject Challenge to Voter ID Law: