Read a copy of the ruling at the end of this story
South Carolina’s voter ID law does not violate the federal Voting Rights Act, a federal court in Washington, D.C., has ruled.
However, the law -- which requires voters to present a state-approved ID with their picture at the polls before casting a ballot -- will not take effect until 2013, meaning it will not affect S.C. voters during the November presidential election.
The U.S. Justice Department had blocked implementation of the new law, passed in 2011. Civil rights groups also had challenged the law, saying it unfairly discriminated against minority voters, who were less likely to have access to the records or state facilities necessary to get a photo ID.
"Every time the federal government has thrown us a punch, we have fought back" Gov. Nikki Haley said after the decision. "This win is not just for South Carolina, this is a win for our country."
However, a three-member federal panel ruled Wednesday that the law’s “expansive ‘reasonable impediment’ provision” made it unlikely that any voters lacking a photo ID would be turned away at the polls. Those voters still can vote “so long as they state the reason for not having obtained” a photo ID, the ruling noted.
“We weren’t opposed to that. We could have passed that bill in a half hour,” state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said. “This (ruling) is a total victory for us. That’s what we’ve said all along.”
Haley said she felt the judges believed the state was not trying to inhibit voting and protect the integrity of the ballot box.
"At the end, what they saw was there was no smoking gun," she said.
Haley said she would have preferred the law to be in effect for next month’s presidential election but she said, "a win is a win is a win."
The governor said the verdict was another victory for the state over federal government. In December, the National Labor Relations Board dropped its complaint against Boeing for opening a new aircraft plant in South Carolina than more-union friendly Washington state.
"I hope that DC understands don’t mess with South Carolina," she said.
In a statement, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson said: “Today’s ruling by the three-judge panel is a major victory for South Carolina and its election process. It affirms our voter ID law is valid and constitutional under the Voting Rights Act. The fact remains, voter ID laws do not discriminate or disenfranchise; they ensure integrity at the ballot box.”
S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said he was disappointed in the decision.
"The South Carolina Democratic Party ... is hopeful that the United States Supreme Court will resolve the differences between various voter ID cases around the country," he said in a statement. "It’s time for this state to find solutions to real problems. Republicans ... have spent millions in taxpayer funds on this cure in search of a disease."
Read the ruling below