The three-judge panel of the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Wednesday that South Carolina's new voter identification law [text] does not discriminate against racial minorities, allowing it to take effect next year. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] argued that the law violated the Voting Rights Act [Cornell LII backgrounder]. The state responded that such procedures are necessary to prevent fraud. The court held that the new law should go in effect at the beginning of 2013 rather than during the November presidential elections because of the short time left to implement the law without discriminatory effects:
Because the voters who currently lack qualifying photo ID are disproportionately African-American, proper and smooth functioning of the reasonable impediment provision would be vital to avoid unlawful racially discriminatory effects on African-American voters in South Carolina in the 2012 elections. Even assuming the best of intentions and extraordinary efforts by all involved, achieving that goal is too much to reasonably demand or expect in a four-week periodand there is too much of a risk to African American voters for us to roll the dice in such a fashion.The court reasoned that the law is valid because it does not deny citizens with non-photo voter registration cards the right to vote if they state the reason for not having obtained one, expands the list of qualifying photo IDs and makes it easier for citizens to obtain one.
South Carolina sued the DOJ in February in an attempt to revive the law after it was blocked [JURIST reports] from taking effect. Six advocacy groups originally called on the DOJ to stop the law [JURIST report]. The coalition argued in a letter to the DOJ that the new law would suppress the minority vote. According to the groups, there are more than 178,000 registered voters in South Carolina who lack a valid photo ID, and African-Americans are disproportionately affected. The groups also argued that African Americans face social and economic barriers to obtaining valid photo ID and that the law is in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.