The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to revisit its decision that allowed the new voter ID law to remain in effect and to determine if the state is capable of issuing IDs to voters who need them before the November election.
The law, which was enacted in March, requires voters to present a state-issued ID, or an acceptable alternative such as a military ID, prior to casting a ballot.
The court had the option to uphold the law, strike it down completely or send it back to the lower court. It decided on the latter option and ruled that the Commonwealth Court's decision relied on judgments about how the state would educate voters and provide access to acceptable forms of identification. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that the justices said lawmakers made "an ambitious effort" to put the photo identification requirement in place by the November elections but that state agencies charged with issuing the ID's face "serious operational constraints" in getting ID's to voters prior to the election. According to Bloomberg Business Week, the court felt the state wasn’t living up to the law’s requirement that it provide “liberal access” to alternate forms of ID. The Pennsylvania Department of State did not begin to offer new ID cards for those unable to obtain a valid substitute until last month.
Addressing the issue of voters being disenfranchised by the law, the decision said"We are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials. The Department of State has realized, and the Commonwealth parties have candidly conceded, that the Law is not being implemented according to its terms,"
The Justices noted that while the law called for voters to be granted state-issued ID simply upon an affirmation "as implementation of the Law has proceeded, PennDOT -- apparently for good reason -- has refused to allow such liberal access."
The Justices went on to say If those procedures are not being followed, or if the Commonweath Court judge was "not still convinced ... that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for purposes of the upcoming election" then he would be 'obliged to enter a preliminary injunction'."
The decision told the Commonwealth Court " to consider whether the procedures being used for deployment of the cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of PennDOT identification cards."
The court ruled 4-2, with two dissenting justices saying it should have blocked the law outright. One justice accused the court of "punting" and said she would have "no part in it." One of the Justices that dissented was Justice Seamus P. McCaffery. In his dissent he said:
I was elected by the people of our Commonwealth, by Republicans, Democrats, Independents and others, as was every single Justice on this esteemed Court. I cannot now be a party to the potential disenfranchisement of even one otherwise qualified elector, including potentially many elderly and possibly disabled veterans who fought for the rights of every American to exercise their fundamental American right to vote. While I have no argument with the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters, at some reasonable point in the future, will have to present photo identification before they may cast their ballots, it is clear to me that the reason for the urgency of implementing Act 18 prior to the November 2012 election is purely political. That has been made abundantly clear by the House Majority Leader. I cannot in good conscience participate in a decision that so clearly has the effect of allowing politics to trump the solemn oath that I swore to uphold our Constitution. That Constitution has made the right to vote a right verging on the sacred, and that right should never be trampled by partisan politics.
An analysis by state officials found the state’s photo ID requirement might exclude as many as 759,000 eligible voters, or 9 percent of Pennsylvania’s electorate, from voting in the Nov. 6 presidential election, Bloomberg Business Week says.
The Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that opposes the law, told ABC News"We're glad to see that Pennsylvania Supreme Court is taking the actual impact on voters seriously," Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis said in a statement. "Requiring the state to prove the law will not disenfranchise voters is the right step to take. We're confident that the evidence demonstrates that this law does disenfranchise of hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania voters and should be enjoined."
The Commonwealth Court must reach its decision by October 2.
The ruling can be seen in its entirety at United Justice System Pennsylvania.
In June, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, told the Republican State Committee, “Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”