The justices did not overturn the law, but instead told the judge to determine whether it is realistic to expect state's Department of Transportation to be able to issue photo ID cards to people who do not currently have them in time for the Nov. 6 election. The number of such people is estimated at from 100,000 to 1.6 million.
If the lower court decides that getting the required photo-ID will be subject to back-ups and other problems that results in disenfranchisement, the high court says the judge must block the law from going forward. At the very least, that would put it off until the next election.
Overall, we are confronted with an ambitious effort on the part of the General Assembly to bring the new identification procedure into effect within 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.Two justices dissented, arguing that the evidence is already clear that the law presents onerous problems for obtaining IDs within the time-frame available.
Thus, we will return the matter to the Commonwealth Court to make a present assessment of the actual availability of the alternate identification cards on a developed record in light of the experience since the time the cards became available. In this regard, the court is 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. If they do not, 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.
Accordingly, the order of the Commonwealth Court is VACATED, and the matter is returned to the Commonwealth Court for further proceedings consistent with this Order. The Commonwealth Court is to file its supplemental opinion on or before October 2, 2012. Any further appeals will be administered on an expedited basis.
jpmassar has a discussion up here.