On Tuesday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a decision on the controversial law requiring Pennsylvanians to carry photo identification to polling places. You might have expected it to include at least some nominal platitudes on both sides of the issue — about what the Founding Fathers intended with the Constitution, or the sacredness of the vote, or states’ rights, or individual rights, or the role and purpose of government itself. But if you were expecting any lofty speeches, you were disappointed.
Instead, the majority decision, which ordered the case back to a lower court for further review, centered on what has increasingly become a focus of this case: The laundry list of bureaucratic mishaps and general government ineptitude that characterized Pennsylvania’s efforts to let its own citizens comply with the new law.
There were the revelations that the Department of State drastically underestimated the number of people who might not have ID before the law was passed; there were the attempts to weaken ID requirements, and then the subsequent attempt to create, when that failed, a whole new form of ID.
These amounted to a “disconnect,” the Supreme Court found, “in what the Law prescribes and how it is being implemented.” Translation: Requiring photo ID might be legal, but the state’s effort to implement it just months before a major election has been so rushed and insufficient that the court might block the law for now, anyway. Justices Seamus McCaffery and Debra McCloskey Todd went a step further in dissenting opinions, McCaffery calling the state’s efforts to implement the law “last ditch,” and noting that, while he doesn’t object to ID requirements per se, “it is clear to me that the urgency for implementing [voter ID] ... is purely political.”
The dissenting judges thought a temporary injunction against the law should have been granted on the spot; the majority decision, however, is asking the Commonwealth to first prove that “no voters will be disenfranchised” — a high bar indeed, and one that may tilt the odds in favor of voter-ID opponents.
Meanwhile, there’s a deep irony in the court’s seeming acceptance of ID in the abstract while potentially rejecting it as a requirement this November: After years of arguing about voter ID as a matter of principle (there being little to no evidence of voter fraud), proponents of the requirement now face possible defeat — precisely for not having enough principle to slow down and get it right.