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Opening Arguments

"I was wrong"

Indiana made history when its voter ID law was upheld by the Supreme Court and became the blueprint for similar laws in other states. Now the Richard A. Posner, the judge who originally upheld the law when it came before the Seven Circuit Court, says he was wrong:

In a new book, “Reflections on Judging,” Judge Posner, a prolific author who also teaches at the University of Chicago Law School, said, “I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion” in the case. He noted that the Indiana law in the Crawford case is “a type of law now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than of fraud prevention.”

Judge Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, extended his remarks in a video interview with The Huffington Post on Friday.

Asked whether the court had gotten its ruling wrong, Judge Posner responded: “Yes. Absolutely.” Back in 2007, he said, “there hadn’t been that much activity in the way of voter identification,” and “we weren’t really given strong indications that requiring additional voter identification would actually disenfranchise people entitled to vote.” The member of the three-judge panel who dissented from the majority decision, Terence T. Evans, “was right,” Judge Posner said.

This should be interesting to all those in the voter ID debate, whichever side they're on, and it's certain to give more energy to ID opponents. It's not often a judge says he's wrong. That's hard for any of us, as a matter of fact.

The problem with court decisions like the one on a new law like voter ID is that there history to draw on. You can't "prove" with evidence what its real-world effect will be.  And how often do courts go back and reconsider something in a few years to see if a ruling holds up under actual experience.

An equally interesting question? How much should the effects of the ruling matter? You either believe, as a matter of principle, that requiring a photo ID to vote is right or wrong. How important is that when weighed against the fact that it might not actually prevent fraud or that it might be used as a tool of suppression?