City of Memphis v. Hargett

Decision Date17 October 2013
Docket NumberNo. M2012–02141–SC–R11–CV.,M2012–02141–SC–R11–CV.
Citation414 S.W.3d 88
PartiesCITY OF MEMPHIS, Tennessee et al. v. Tre HARGETT, Secretary of State et al.
CourtTennessee Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

William E. Young, Solicitor General; Steven A. Hart, Special Counsel; and Janet M. Kleinfelter, Deputy Attorney General, for the appellants, Tre Hargett, Secretary of State; Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; and Mark Goins, State Coordinator of Elections, all in their official capacities.

George E. Barrett and Douglas S. Johnston, Jr., Nashville, Tennessee, and Herman Morris, Jr. and Regina Morrison Newman, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellees, City of Memphis, Tennessee, Daphne Turner–Golden, and Sullistine Bell.

OPINION

GARY R. WADE, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which JANICE M. HOLDER, CORNELIA A. CLARK, and SHARON G. LEE, JJ., joined. WILLIAM C. KOCH, JR., J., filed a concurring opinion.

GARY R. WADE, C.J.

In May of 2011, the General Assembly enacted a law providing, with certain exceptions, that all citizens who appear in person to vote must present photographic proof of their identity. The statute authorized a variety of acceptable forms of identification, one of which was a valid photographic identification card issued by an entity of the State of Tennessee. Prior to the August 2012 primary election, the City of Memphis Public Library issued photographic identification cards to its patrons. When two Shelby County residents attempted to vote in the primary using photographic library cards as means of identification, however, election officials declined to accept the cards as the requisite proof. The two residents and the City of Memphis filed a declaratory judgment action against the Secretary of State, the State Coordinator of Elections, and the Attorney General, arguing that the photographic identification requirement violated constitutional protections and that the City of Memphis qualified as an entity of the state authorized to issue valid photographic identification cards through its public library. The trial court denied relief on all counts, ruling first that the plaintiffs lacked standing and holding in the alternative that the photographic identification requirement did not violate the state constitution and that the City of Memphis did not qualify as an entity of the state. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that each plaintiff had standing to sue and that photographic identification cards issued by a municipal library complied with the statute for voting purposes, but also concluding that the photographic identification requirement did not violate constitutional principles. Following the grant of an application for permission to appeal, briefing, and oral argument, the General Assembly enacted amendments to the statute which, among other things, precluded the use of photographic identification cards issued by municipalities or their libraries for voting purposes. In light of these recent amendments, we hold that each issue in this appeal that pertains to the validity of the Memphis Public Library cards as photographic identification is now moot. We further hold that the City of Memphis lacks standing, and, although the two residents of Shelby County have standing to file a declaratory judgment action, the photographic identification requirement, both on its face and as applied in this instance, meets constitutional scrutiny. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals on the issue of constitutionality.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On May 30, 2011, the Governor signed into law the Tennessee Voter Identification Act (the “Act”), which modified the requirement for Tennessee voters to supply “evidence of identification” in order to cast an election ballot. Tenn.Code Ann. § 2–7–112(a)(1)(B) (Supp.2012). The Act, which took effect on January 1, 2012, required photographic identification (“photo ID”) in one of the following forms: (1) a Tennessee driver's license; (2) “a valid identification card issued by a branch, department, agency or entity of the State of Tennessee, any other state, or the United States authorized by law to issue personal identification,” excluding any identification card issued to a student by an institution of higher learning; (3) an identification card issued pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 55–50–336; 1 (4) a United States passport; (5) [a] valid employee identification card issued by a branch, department, agency or entity of this state, any other state, or the United States authorized by law to issue employee identification”; (6) a United States military identification card; and (7) a retired state employee identification card issued pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 8–50–118.2Tenn.Code Ann. § 2–7–112(c) (amended 2013). Several categories of voters are exempted from the requirement of presenting evidence of identification, including any voter who is either “indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without payment of a fee or who has a religious objection to being photographed,” id. § 2–7–112(f); voters who are eligible to cast an absentee ballot, see id. § 2–6–201 (2003 & Supp.2012) (amended 2013); voters who are unable to vote in person because of being hospitalized within twenty days of an election, id. § 2–6–401(a)(1), (d) (2003); and voters who fall under the provisions pertaining to full-time nursing home residents, see id. § 2–6–601 (2003 & Supp.2012). A person who attempts to vote in person but is unable to produce valid evidence of identification and does not meet the exceptions for indigent voters or religious objectors is entitled to cast a provisional ballot, which will be counted as long as the person presents valid proof of identification by the close of business on the second business day after the election. Id. § 2–7–112(e).

As part of an effort to inform the public about the photo ID requirement, the Tennessee Department of State, Division of Elections (the Division of Elections) provided notice by letter to every registered voter in possession of a non-photo ID card, encouraging those individuals to contact the Division of Elections for a determination of whether they had a compliant identification card and, if not, how to obtain one. On January 18, 2012, the Memphis City Attorney issued an opinion to City of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr., advising that the City of Memphis Public Library (the “Library”) qualified as an “entity of the state under Tennessee Code Annotated section 2–7–112(c)(2)(A), and that a photo ID card issued by the Library would serve as valid evidence of identification for voting purposes. After discussing the issue, the Library's administration decided to offer photo ID cards to its patrons.

On July 5, 2012, Mayor Wharton held a press conference to announce that the Library would offer photo ID cards that could be used in the upcoming August primary election. On the following day, the State Coordinator of Elections, Mark Goins, sent an email to the Shelby County Election Commission (the Election Commission) expressing the view that the Library was not an entity of the state and that its photo ID cards were not valid evidence of identification. At a press conference four days later, Mr. Goins confirmed that the photo ID cards issued by the Library did not qualify as an acceptable form of identification under the Act.

On separate occasions in July of 2012, Robert White, the Chief of Staff for Mayor Wharton, accompanied Shelby County residents Daphne Turner–Golden and SullistineBell as they traveled to branches of the Library in order to obtain photo ID cards. According to Ms. Turner–Golden, a Tennessee photo ID card that she had obtained in January of 2012 had been stolen, leaving her without any other form of photo ID. Later, in an effort to vote early in the August 2012 primary election, Ms. Turner–Golden, again accompanied by Mr. White, traveled to two different voting locations in Shelby County. She was turned down at both locations on the basis that her library card was not a valid form of identification. At the second location, Ms. Turner–Golden cast a provisional ballot and was instructed that she would have to timely present a valid photo ID card to the Election Commission in order to have her vote counted. Mr. White also accompanied Ms. Bell to an early voting location. When she too was informed that her library card was not a valid means of identification under the terms of the Act, she cast a provisional ballot. She learned that her vote would not be counted unless she presented a valid photo ID card to the Election Commission by August 6, 2012.

On July 24, 2012, the City of Memphis, Ms. Turner–Golden, and Ms. Bell 3 (collectively, the Plaintiffs) filed suit in federal court against Mr. Goins in his official capacity as the State Coordinator of Elections and Secretary of State Tre Hargett, alleging violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and seeking a declaration that a photo ID card issued by the Library qualified as a valid means of identification for voting purposes. The Plaintiffs filed motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction prior to the August 2012 primary, both of which the federal court denied. Turner–Golden v. Hargett, No. 3:12–CV–00765, 2012 WL 3202307, at *2, *9 (M.D.Tenn. Aug. 3, 2012).

The state and federal primary election was held as scheduled in August of 2012. Approximately 700,000 Tennesseans voted in the primary, and approximately 132,000 of those voters were residents of Shelby County. Thirty-two Shelby County residents who were deemed to have invalid photo ID cards cast provisional ballots, and four of those voters ultimately complied with the Election Commission's instructions to return with a valid photo ID card by the August 6, 2012 deadline. Of the remaining...

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