The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in a 4 to 2 decision this afternoon, has vacated a Commonwealth Court's earlier ruling, which had denied a temporary injunction on the state GOP's polling place Photo ID restriction law. Rather than issuing their own injunction, they have has sent the matter back to the lower court for review.
According to the high court's 7-page order [PDF] issued today, if the lower court finds that the state is unable to implement "liberal access" to the supposedly free Photo IDs to be issued by the state, as dictated by the General Assembly's requirements detailed in the statute itself, "or if the Commonwealth Court is not still convinced in its predictive judgment 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, that court is obliged to enter a preliminary injunction."
We'll try to unpack that for you in a moment. As well, there were two scathing dissents to today's ruling, both highly critical of the majority for not ending the ongoing "chaos" immediately, instead of remanding it for another round to the lower court. But, in general, and depending on how Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, a Republican, reviews the case as ordered, this is may be good news for voters in the Keystone State.
"It's certainly a very positive step in the right direction in that the court recognizes that the state does not make adequate provision for people to get the ID that they would need to vote," said David Gersch, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs challenging the law's state constitutionality, according to CBS. "In addition, there is a practical problem with getting the ID to people in the short time available."
The case, Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [PDF], was originally filed in May by the ACLU, the PA League of Women Voters, and other civil rights organizations on behalf of 92-year old Viviette Applewhite and 10 other petitioners who were facing potential disenfranchisement under the new law, along with hundreds of thousands of other legally registered and otherwise eligible voters in the state. Before the trial even began, the Commonwealth admitted that they were unaware of a single instance of polling place impersonation --- the only type of voter fraud that can possibly be deterred by their polling place Photo ID restrictions --- in the history of the state.
Last Thursday, during their hearing in Philadelphia, the PA Supremes indicated they had some skepticism about the law, as we detailed here. The court was reviewing an appeal by the plaintiffs filed last week after the Commonwealth Court had stunned many of those following the case, including the plaintiffs who had predicted a "slam-dunk" win, by upholding the law last month and refusing to grant a preliminary injunction in advance of the November Presidential election.
But now Judge Simpson will have another crack at deciding the case, as the high court has punted it back to him. This time, however, he has been ordered by the high court to issue a preliminary injunction on the law if he cannot determine that the state is able to meet two very specific conditions...