UCI professor catches Supreme Court dissent mistake, prompting rare correction

In Campus News, National News, News

This article was updated Nov. 4 at 1:50 p.m. to include additional information. 

It’s not easy catching the nation’s highest court making a mistake, and it’s even harder to get the court to admit to it. But that’s exactly what a UC Irvine law professor did.

Richard L. Hasen, chancellor’s professor of law and political science for UC Irvine, played a part in a historic moment when Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg not only amended a mistake in a dissent she wrote on a Texas voter ID case, she also made a rare public announcement about it.

Hasen said he discovered the mistake after he wrote an article for Slate about a Texas law that prohibits people from using certain kinds of IDs when they went to vote.

The law, Texas Senate Bill 14, requires voters to provide one of a few different forms of photo identification when they go to vote. These include valid Texas licenses, state-issued ID cards, veterans IDs, concealed handgun licenses, birth certificates and passports.

Hasen said the law makes other forms of photo identification like student IDs inadmissible for voting purposes.

The law was challenged under the Voting Rights Act and brought before a trial judge who struck it down.

From there, the case made its way to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the trial judge’s decision was reversed.

It was then argued before the Supreme Court, which said Texas could use its new law in the Tuesday elections.

Justices Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor joined in a dissent against the decision of the court.

In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg, mistakenly wrote that veterans IDs would not be accepted under the Texas law.

Hasen quoted a portion of the dissent in his article where Ginsberg said veterans IDs would not be accepted under Texas’ new law. He was later contacted by VoteRiders, a group dedicated to encouraging voting, alerting him to the error.

“And so I put a post up on my election law blog, asking whether or not this was in fact an error,” Hasen said. “Soon after, the Texas Secretary of State’s office tweeted at me and indicated that veterans IDs were indeed okay.”

Hasen said he then updated his blog post and it was later picked up by a number of publications, including SCOTUSblog. He said that blog is followed by a number of high ranking officials in the law world, including justices on the Supreme Court.

“About a day later, Justice Ginsburg announced she was changing the opinion and eliminating that one sentence that contained the error,” Hasen said.

Hasen said that he was surprised when Ginsburg made her announcements because it’s a fairly uncommon practice for Supreme Court justices to announce when they’ve made a mistake. In most cases, judges will simply make corrections to their statement—sometimes years after the fact—without alerting the public to it.

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