South Carolina

How Trump’s Supreme Court pick ruled on SC’s voter ID law

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before meeting with Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Thursday, July 12, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, .
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh before meeting with Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Thursday, July 12, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington, . AP Photo

Even before he possibly secures a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, President Donald Trump’s choice to be the next associate justice on the nation’s highest court already has had an impact on S.C. laws — and the state’s election process.

As a judge on the D.C. Court of Appeals in 2012, Kavanaugh ruled on a Justice Department challenge to an S.C. law requiring voters to show an ID to cast their ballots, a law that critics contended really was intended to reduce minority turnout in elections.

Kavanaugh was the primary author of the opinion, which ultimately upheld the S.C. law. That law, passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature in 2011, required voters to show one of five forms of photo identification before they could vote.

But Kavanaugh’s ruling also held the state to an “expansive ‘reasonable impediment’ provision” that effectively created a loophole for anyone without an ID to give a reason why they couldn’t get one and vote anyway.

The ruling may provide a hint as to how Kavanaugh might decide cases on the nation’s highest court, if he is confirmed after what could be a contentious U.S. Senate vote.

Supporters of the S.C. law — and similar measures in other states — argued an ID requirement is necessary to ensure voters are who they say they are and to keep the ballot box secure. Kavanaugh and two other judges ruled the law did not violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act after a challenge by the Obama Department of Justice.

“It affirms our voter ID law is valid and constitutional under the Voting Rights Act,” S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, R-Lexington, said of the ruling at the time. “The fact remains, voter ID laws do not discriminate or disenfranchise; they ensure integrity at the ballot box.”

But part of the reason the law passed muster was that Kavanaugh also held that voters without IDs still can vote “so long as they state the reason for not having obtained” a photo ID.

Democratic state Sen. Brad Hutto told The State newspaper in 2012 that Kavanaugh’s ruling constituted a “total victory” for Democrats’ arguments about voter access. “We could have passed that bill in a half hour” if it had been written as Kavanaugh interpreted it, Hutto said.

If voters don’t have one of five specified forms of identification — an S.C. driver’s license, another Department of Motor Vehicles-issued ID, a voter registration card with a photo, military ID or passport — they still can vote after filling out an affidavit citing their impediment to getting a photo ID.

The state even provides options on preprinted forms — a disability or illness, a work conflict, a lack of transportation, family responsibilities, a lack of a birth certificate or a religious objection to being photographed.

In short: While the S.C. law says a photo ID is required to vote, it isn’t.

On his way out the door, Sanford takes aim at Trump

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-Charleston, is joining with other members of Congress to try to curtail President Donald Trump’s use of tariffs as a trade war tool.

Sanford signed on to a bill with five other representatives — three Republicans and two Democrats — that would allow Congress to review any tariffs imposed by the president for national security reasons.

The 60-day congressional review would apply to future tariffs but also any actions taken by the president in the last two years.

“Almost 580,000 jobs in South Carolina are tied to trade, and over 6,000 companies export goods globally from the state,” Sanford said in supporting the legislation. “This means that any federal policy affecting trade — like tariffs — will have a huge impact.”

Sanford added, “Whether you want more tariffs or no tariffs, the Constitution is explicit in granting Congress the power to decide these matters. Yet, over the years, this power has eroded in congressional hands and strengthened in executive ones.”

Tariffs are a controversial tool in Trump’s tool chest as he attempts to address what he sees as trade imbalances with other countries. But South Carolina could be one of the states hardest hit by foreign retaliation.

The S.C. Chamber of Commerce asked members of the state’s congressional delegation to do “whatever it takes” to stop tariffs from being enacted.

But on Wednesday, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both S.C. Republicans, were two of just 11 senators to vote against a Senate resolution opposing Trump’s tariff policy. Both senators said they did not want to undermine Trump’s ability to negotiate better trade deals.

Sanford is on his way out of the U.S. House, having lost his 1st District GOP primary to state Rep. Katie Arrington, partly because of his disagreements with Trump. The president tweeted his endorsement of Arrington on primary day and has danced on Sanford’s political grave in his public comments since.