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More Voter ID Developments

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Brent Kendall reports in the WSJ on developments in voter ID cases.

Voter identification laws suffered setbacks in two states on Thursday, with the U.S. Supreme Court blocking Wisconsin from imposing its voter-identification measure during the midterm elections and a federal judge in Texas striking down that state's ID law.

The Supreme Court's action in Wisconsin marked its third recent intervention in a high-profile election case, and the first before the high court in which advocates for minority voters prevailed.

The justices in the two other cases allowed Ohio to cut back on early voting and cleared North Carolina to impose new, tighter voting rules.

The high court in each case effectively put the brakes on lower court rulings that would have prompted late changes in election procedures in the run-up to the Nov. 4 day.

Meanwhile, a U.S. District Judge in Texas said that state's voter ID law amounted to an "unconstitutional poll tax," an outcome the state said it would immediately appeal.

The unfortunate thing about this "avoid late changes" approach is that the timing of an order rather than its merit may determine whether it is in effect for the election.  If the Fifth Circuit follows the same pattern, it will stay the District Court's order.  It won't matter that much in Texas, where the most important races aren't close.  But the Wisconsin governor's race is a tossup, and if the final tally is close enough, the deceased vote could tip the balance.

Update:  Text of the order and dissent follows the break.
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
No. 14A352
RUTHELLE FRANK, ET AL. v. SCOTT WALKER
GOVERNOR OF WISCONSIN, ET AL.
ON APPLICATION TO VACATE STAY
[October 9, 2014]

     The application to vacate the September 12, 2014 order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted and the Seventh Circuit's stay of the district court's permanent injunction is vacated pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari respecting case Nos. 14-2058 & 14-2059. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this order shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the order shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court

     JUSTICE ALITO, with whom JUSTICE SCALIA and JUSTICE THOMAS join, dissenting.
     There is a colorable basis for the Court's decision due to the proximity of the upcoming general election. It is particularly troubling that absentee ballots have been sent out without any notation that proof of photo identification must be submitted. But this Court "may not vacate a stay entered by a court of appeals unless that court clearly and 'demonstrably' erred in its application of 'accepted standards.'" Planned Parenthood of Greater Tex. Surgical Health Servs. v. Abbott, 571 U. S. ___, ___ (2013) (slip op., at 1) (SCALIA, J., concurring in denial of application to vacate stay) (quoting Western Airlines, Inc. v. Teamsters, 480 U. S. 1301, 1305 (1987) (O'Connor, J., in chambers);some internal quotation marks omitted). Under that test, the application in this case should be denied.

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