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Pennsylvania Supreme Court sends voter ID bill back for review

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just now sent the state's new voter ID law back to a lower court for review.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just now sent the state's new voter ID law back to a lower court for review. Under the law passed by the new Republican majority this year, as many as 1 million Pennsylvanians have been expected not to be able to vote in November.

State officials assured the court that everything would be fine and that voters would get the IDs they need. The court was not having it. From the ruling (pdf):

Overall, we are confronted with an ambitious effort on the part of the General Assembly to bring the new identification procedure into effect with in a relatively short timeframe and an implementation process which has by no means been seamless in light of the serious operational constraints faced by the executive branch. Given this state of affairs, we are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials, even though we have no doubt they are proceeding in good faith.

Since the law went into effect, a couple of high-profile Pennsylvanians without the required documents have managed to get IDs anyway. One state official advised voters in need to ask clerks at the DMV for leniency. With the 4-2 vote today, Pennsylvania's high court is saying that a patchwork, beg-your-way-through system is not good enough.

The Supreme Court sent the matter back to the lower Commonwealth Court for a review of whether the ID cards voters will need are in fact reaching the public in time. The justices set a deadline of October 2. The ruling is not an injunction -- the justices are looking for more information before they make a final decision. The Philadelphia Inquirer says it's not clear how today's ruling will affect the law's standing for the November election. Dave Weigel calls it a win for Democrats, implicitly, and explicitly. for the voting-rights groups that challenged the law.

Adding: In her dissent (pdf), Justice Debra McCloskey Todd says that by deferring a final call this close to the election, the court is ducking its duty. "The ideas of the nation are upon us, and this Court has chosen to punt rather than to act," she writes. "I will have no part of it."

After the jump, a little more from the ruling.

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court recognized the burden of the voter ID law on vulnerable groups of voters. From the ruling:

While there is a debate over the number of affected voters, given the substantial overlap between voter rolls and PennDOT's existing ID driver/cardholder database, it is readily understood that a minority of the population is affected by the access issue. Nevertheless, there is little disagreement with Appellants' observation that the population involved includes members of some of the most vulnerable segments of our society (the elderly, disabled members of our community, and the financially disadvantaged).

The court has posted the full ruling, along with the Todd dissent and Justice Seamus McAffery's concurring dissent (all pdfs). Please point out parts that strike you as interesting in the comments.