SCOTUS: Weird with a beard

We're going to discuss photo IDs and vote suppression in just a minute.

But first, God and beards were before the Supreme Court on Tuesday in the case of Holt v. Hobbs. At issue: Whether a Muslim prisoner in Arkansas should be allowed to wear a beard in accordance with his religious faith. Per federal statute, prisons should allow such accomodation. As a compromise, the plaintiff, Holt, had agreed that a half-inch beard would satisfy his obligation to God.

University of Virginia law professor Douglas Laycock testified for the plaintiff.

Inside the court chamber, Laycock told the justices that 40 prison systems allow beards of any length, yet Arkansas still will not allow a short, half-inch beard. That policy, he argued, is "seeking absolute deference to anything they say, just because they say it."

Admitting that they have no similar policy restricting hair on the head, Arkansas Deputy Attorney General David Curran argued that facial hair is a different matter. Why, a prisoner might be able to shave his beard to change his appearance before an escape or before sneaking into another barracks to assault another prisoner.

Chief Justice Roberts interrupted, "You have no examples of that ever happening."

Well, he might hide contraband in his beard, Curran offered. (This was not going well.) Justice Breyer jumped in:

“Would you say it’s an exaggerated fear that people would hide something in their beards when, in a country of a very high prison population, not one example has ever been found of anybody hiding anything in his beard?” Breyer asked.

Would such exaggerated fears justify allowing the state to interfere with the prisoner's free exercise of religion?

Curren replied, "Just because we haven't found the example doesn't mean they aren't there."

Justice Alito fired back:

“Why can’t the prison just give the inmate a comb .?.?. and if there’s anything in there, if there’s a SIM card in there or a revolver — or anything else you think can be hidden in a 1/2-inch beard, a tiny revolver — it’ll fall out,” Alito said.

Just such exaggerated fears such are at the heart of the voter fraud frauds' relentless campaign to require photo IDs for voting. We need to restore confidence in the election process, they argue, after having spent decades undermining it.

They Might Be Giants

See, not requiring photo IDs might pose a threat of voter impersonation. Dead or relocated people still on registration rolls might be used by criminals to vote multiple times. People registered in two states might vote in both. GIS, USPS, and local address systems don't always agree — people with odd-looking addresses might be registered fraudulently. Somebody might be running off fake utility bills as ID for the homeless dead from housing projects.

What voter fraud sleuths never seem to produce are living, breathing perpetrators of in-person voter fraud as lively as their imaginations.

"Just because we haven't found the example doesn't mean they aren't there." Hans von Spakovsky, True the Vote, and the Voter Integrity Project believe the same thing, and just as firmly.

Come to think of it, underneath their rubber skin, True the Vote members might be Red Lectroids from Planet 10. You know, there could be thousands of them Lectroids on our planet, in our country, and voting illegally in our elections, and we would ever know, would we? Because WE’RE NOT LOOKING. So, DNA tests for every voter, right? I mean, you wouldn’t want Red Lectroids corrupting the integrity of our elections.

Just because they say it, are exaggerated fears about might-be fraud sufficient to justify states erecting obstacles to voting that disenfranchise Americans young and old, poor and minority? Because a new report by the Government Accountability Office suggests that that is just what photo ID laws do. And lo and behold, "declines were greater among younger and African-American voters, when compared to turnout in other states."

In deciding the 2008 Crawford v. Marion County Election Board photo ID case in Indiana, it's a shame that the nine Supreme Court justices had not heard this hairy one from Arkansas first. As SCOTUS now mulls over the “horrendous” ruling this week upholding Scott Walker's photo ID law in Wisconsin, perhaps now the court will bring the same degree of skepticism to protecting Americans' voting rights as it showed in protecting religious ones.

Then again, don't hold your breath.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)