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January 10, 2008

Quick: What does the 24th Amendment say??

I just read an interesting, snarky, and probably not super well-informed post on Wonkette about a case facing the Supreme Court involving an Indiana law that requires voters to produce a photo ID at their polling place.The Constitutional argument against the law is that IDs cost money, and requiring one is a de facto poll tax, which is prohibited by the 24th Amendment. This line of reasoning makes some sense, but opens the door to the idea that any cost associated with voting is a de facto poll tax.Anyway, even if one takes for granted that the Indiana law does act as a poll tax, that doesn't definitively mean that the law is unconstitutional. How can this be? After all, the 24th Amendment is straightforward enough:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
However, the Constitution is also straightforward it saying that Congress can't abridge freedom of speech, yet government regulates speech all the time (from the classic example of "you can't shout 'fire' in a crowded theater" to campaign finance reform). The test of whether or not speech can be regulated is if the government has "a compelling state interest" in doing so and if the law is "narrowly tailored" in its regulation of speech. Basically, the Court asks if the government has a very good reason for the law and if the law is as unobtrusive as possible. (You may be thinking, well, if all the Court does, basically, in situations like this is decide if the law is a good idea, then what's the point of having the Court decide at all? I can't answer that.)Going back to the Indiana law, the same standard--I'm almost sure--applies. That is, if Indiana can show that voter fraud is a big problem and this law goes a long way to solving it, they have a case. (However, I would say that the law is probably not "narrowly tailored." I also suspect that Indiana will have trouble proving massive voter fraud.)Even if this law is ruled unconstitutional--and I think it will be--the point is that issues of Constitutional law are rarely as simple as some commentators make them out to be.