FARGO-Fans of mixed-martial arts fighting might appreciate the 29-page ruling handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland this week. Hovland kicked North Dakota Republican legislators in the teeth, elbowed them in the back of the heads, twisted their knees into unthinkable positions and delivered a few quick punches to their faces.
Did the GOPers tap out of this brutal takedown? Nah. It's likely they ignored it on their way to crafting more bills that don't have a chance of standing up to constitutional scrutiny while costing North Dakota taxpayers thousands upon thousands of dollars. It seems to be a habit.
Hovland's ruling blocked the state's voter identification law, passed by the Legislature in 2013 and signed into law by Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Boiled down, Hovland wrote that North Dakota put a number of restrictions in place that unfairly burdened Native Americans, requiring one form of ID to get another form of ID to get an acceptable form of ID. Not only that, the state enacted "some of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation" when it removed the possibility a voter could sign an affidavit vouching for their identity.
It is 29 pages of a blood-spattered canvas, with Hovland delivering a careful and detailed beating to legislators who clearly built a phantom case of rampant voter fraud in an attempt to keep a certain group of people from voting. The state did not even try to defend it, because it couldn't defend it. Lawyers for the state didn't produce one shred of evidence showing voter fraud, nor could they produce one shred of evidence proving Native Americans were not more adversely affected than other citizens.
"It is important to note that with respect to the Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief, none of the affidavits, declarations, surveys, studies, or data submitted by the Plaintiffs in support of their motion have been challenged or refuted by the State of North Dakota," Hovland wrote.
The entire case built by the plaintiffs-seven members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa-went undisputed by the state.
It is a devastating indictment of the Legislature.
The plaintiffs presented mounds of evidence and statistics showing how the laws made it more difficult for them to vote compared to non-Native Americans. Cost. Travel time. Lack of transportation. Proximity to sites that provide driver's licenses. And more. Much more.
The state did not challenge or dispute any of it. It agreed, directly contrary to what Republican lawmakers said in supporting the bill, that Native Americans face much greater burdens in securing the proper ID.
"The undisputed evidence produced to date supports the conclusion that some of those voters will simply be unable to obtain the necessary ID, no matter how hard they try," Hovland wrote.
And remember how legislators repeated over and over how voter ID laws were necessary to prevent voter fraud, that election integrity in North Dakota was in trouble because of all the people voting who shouldn't be voting? Elections could be stolen, they said.
Yeah, not so much.
Actually, not at all.
The state did not show one instance of voter fraud to defend the law.
"There is," Hovland wrote, "a total lack of evidence to show voter fraud has ever been a problem in North Dakota."
In another instance he wrote, "The undisputed evidence before the Court reveals that voter fraud in North Dakota has been virtually non-existent."
There's that phrase again. "Undisputed evidence." It appears often in Hovland's ruling.
Here is what we need to keep in mind, particularly as the Legislature gets ready to crank up again in 2017: Legislators and those testifying in favor of (or against) bills are under no burden to be truthful or present actual evidence to back up their arguments. So GOP lawmakers intent on preventing certain people from voting made up whatever malarkey they wanted.
"It's easy to get an ID. Who couldn't get an ID? Everybody can get one."
"There is rampant voter fraud! People are voting who shouldn't be voting! We need to put a stop to this!"
But when a law is challenged and goes to a court, defendants must produce evidence. Facts. Truths. Statistics. That's a key difference. There was no truth to defend this law.
One more key point. Hovland is no wild-eyed liberal, the proverbial "activist judge" out to make social change. He is an appointee of former Republican president George W. Bush. He was appointed by a conservative. He's on the same team.
That makes this more than a takedown. It's a full-blown cold knockout. It'd be an embarrassing one, if North Dakota's Republican lawmakers were capable of embarrassment.