Court Upholds Voter ID Law, Permits Library Cards

A legal challenge against the state’s new voter ID requirement has gotten part of what it asked for. An appeals court did not overturn the law as unconstitutional. But it did say a Memphis library card with a photo is acceptable to vote in Tennessee.

Opponents of the requirement argue getting a state ID isn’t always easy, and could exclude some voters, like college students, minorities and the elderly – hence the lawsuit from two Memphis women.

Attorney Doug Johnston helped argue their case. Johnston says they have to decide quickly whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court, if they hope to undo the law altogether, before Election Day.

“It’s theoretically possible. The longer we go, the less likely it is.”

Johnston says Thursday’s ruling will let libraries in towns across Tennessee issue photo IDs people can use to vote. Meanwhile the author of the law, outgoing House Republican Debra Maggart, says that was not her intent, and calls the court’s ruling “legislating from the bench.”
From the court’s opinion (full PDF here):

The list of photograph identification cards that are deemed acceptable as proof of identity at a polling place includes “a valid identification card issued by a branch, department, agency or entity of this state, any other state, or the United States authorized by law to issue personal identification; provided, that such identification card contains a photograph of the voter.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(c)(2)(A). Memphis argues that its library cards meet this definition. The State argues that the Memphis library is not a “branch, department, agency or entity of this state.”

… Tennessee case law supports finding that the city is “a branch, department, agency or entity of this state.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(c)(2)(A). The Tennessee Supreme Court has observed that, “[i]t is beyond question that a Tennessee municipality is an agency of the state exercising a portion of the sovereign power of the state for the public good.” Collierville v. Fayette Cnty. Election Comm’n, 539 S.W.2d 334, 336 (Tenn. 1976).

We hold that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112(c)(2)(A) allows the City of Memphis, through its public library, to issue photographic identification library cards that can be used by voters to satisfy the identification requirements of Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-7-112.

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