Crawford and ID Creep

Thanks to the Concurring Opinions gang for inviting me back for another visit!

I will leave it to the likes of the incredible Rick Hasen and SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Deniston — among many, many others — to talk about the important election law elements of Monday’s Supreme Court decision on voter identification in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. But if you are a hammer everything is a nail, and if you are a privacy scholar every newspaper story is about privacy. And the privacy implications here are rather clear.

Quite appropriately, the case was briefed, argued, and decided on the basis of the burden that Indiana’s identification requirements placed (or didn’t place) on the right to vote. The seminal cases were Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, which held the poll tax unconstitutional, and its progeny. Other key sources cited in the opinions included the Carter-Baker Commission report and two recent federal electoral reform statutes, the motor voter law and the Help America Vote Act. The burdens considered by both the lead opinion and the dissents were pragmatic ones, largely monetary cost and inconvenience.

What about privacy burdens?

Election law doctrine does not leave much room for their consideration. In other contexts, identification requirements are viewed as potential privacy intrusions. The continuing controversy and the backlash in state legislatures against the federal Real ID Act (see, e.g., here and here) is one such area. Likewise, the 2004 decision in Hiibel, though it upheld state “stop-and-identify” laws allowing police officers to demand that a suspect disclose his or her name, was also analyzed primarily as a privacy issue.

But in Crawford, there is no mention of the privacy impact of turning voting into yet another important activity that you cannot accomplish without “showing your papers.” And since it is now basically impossible to board an aircraft, enter a federal building, or cash a check without showing ID, voter ID requirements become just another event in an accelerating trend toward an ID society.

I’m not necessarily saying that Crawford was wrongly decided. But it is remarkable that “ID creep” has played such a small role in both the legal argument and the news coverage related to this controversial case. Indeed, I suspect that crabwise movement toward a de facto ID requirement, through individual rules that necessitate ID in more and more settings, is worse than a straightforward debate on a national ID card. Great Britain is going through that debate now (see, e.g., here and here); if the end result is a true national ID then at least all the arguments for and against will be fully aired. Just a thought.

[Cross-posted at Concurring Opinions.]

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