A federal appeals court on Friday permitted Wisconsin to restore a requirement that voters provide photo identification before casting their ballots, allowing the long-debated state law to take effect in time for a hard-fought election on Nov. 4. The order, which came surprisingly swiftly, on the same day that lawyers made their arguments before a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, was seen as a significant victory for advocates of such voting requirements. Opponents of the laws had viewed the Wisconsin case as opening a novel legal basis for their efforts in federal courtrooms. In their order, the panel of three judges described Wisconsin’s requirement as “materially identical” to a statute in Indiana, which was upheld in 2008 by the Supreme Court. The panel also noted that Wisconsin had introduced new procedures to make it easier to obtain photo identification cards, reducing concerns raised months ago by a federal court judge who had blocked Wisconsin’s law, saying that it disproportionately affected blacks and Latinos.
“This reduces the likelihood of irreparable injury, and it also changes the balance of equities and thus the propriety of federal injunctive relief,” the appeals panel, which stayed the earlier court’s injunction, said. The order was unsigned, but the panel included Frank H. Easterbrook, who was nominated to the court by President Ronald Reagan, and Diane S. Sykes and John Daniel Tinder, both of whom were nominated by President George W. Bush.
The order was not a final action on the issue, but the appeals panel said it had concluded that the probability was “sufficiently great” that Wisconsin officials, who had appealed efforts to block the photo requirement, would succeed in their case. A fuller opinion on the merits of the case is expected later, but efforts to prepare Wisconsin voters and poll workers for the photo requirement will take place immediately, state officials said.