Constitutional Law—Suffrage and the State’s Interest in Preventing Fraud—The Constitutionality of Tennessee’s Photo Identification Requirement Under Strict Scrutiny

by Garett Franklyn

In 2012, the Tennessee Voter Identification Act (the “Act”) went into effect, requiring voters to present valid photographic identification (photo ID) to cast an election ballot.  In August 2012 two senior citizens, Daphne Turner-Golden and Sullistine Bell (the plaintiffs), attempted to vote in the general election by using a library card issued by the City of Memphis Public Library (the “Library”).  Voting officials told the plaintiffs their library cards were invalid forms of photo ID, turned them away, and had them cast provisional ballots requiring a valid photo ID.

The plaintiffs sued the Tennessee State Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins and Tennessee’s Secretary of State Tre Hargett.  The plaintiffs were joined in the action by the City of Memphis (the “City”).  The suit alleged violations of the plaintiffs’ rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and sought a declaration that the Library’s photo ID qualified as a valid identification for voting purposes.  During the suit, the plaintiffs filed motions for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, both of which were denied.

After the August 2012 primary, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their federal suit and filed a new complaint in Davidson County Chancery Court against Mr. Goins, Mr. Hargett, and Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper, Jr. (collectively, the defendants).  The complaint sought injunctive relief, asserting that the plaintiffs could not obtain a photo ID prior to the November general election date.  The chancery court held that: 1) none of the plaintiffs had standing; 2) the complaint did not assert an as-applied constitutional challenge to the Act; 3) the case was not a class action; 4) the statute was not unconstitutional; and 5) the Library was not an entity authorized to issue photo identification.  The trial court entered judgment reflecting these holdings.

On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Appeals for the Middle Section affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding: 1) the plaintiffs had standing; 2) the Act met the facial constitutional standard; and 3) the photo ID cards issued by the Library qualified as valid proof of identification.  After this decision, the Tennessee General Assembly amended the Act. The General Assembly replaced the contested requirement that photo ID cards be issued by any of the state’s entities to instead require that photo ID cards be issued only by Tennessee itself or by the United States.  On certiorari to the Tennessee Supreme Court, held, affirmed.

Because of the Act’s 2013 amendment, the Tennessee Supreme Court held that issues pertaining to the validity of the Library-issued photo IDs were moot.  The plaintiffs, with the exception of the City, have standing to file a declaratory judgment.  The Act, on its face and as-applied, is constitutional and passes a strict scrutiny analysis.  Furthermore, the requirement of providing a valid photo ID is not an additional qualification abridging the privileged rights of the plaintiffs under Article IV, section 1 of the Tennessee Constitution. Additionally, the differences between in-person voters and absentee voters are not constitutional infringements under Article XI, section 8.  City of Memphis v. Hargett, 414 S.W.3d 88 (Tenn. 2013).

 

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