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OUR OPINION: Supreme Court issues common sense ruling

When the modern Supreme Court rules on partisan issues, the outcome usually is 5-4. So, 6-3 rulings on deeply contentious matters usually suggests that the winning side really did have the stronger case.

When the modern Supreme Court rules on partisan issues, the outcome usually is 5-4. So, 6-3 rulings on deeply contentious matters usually suggests that the winning side really did have the stronger case.

Last week, a 6-3 ruling suggested exactly that regarding Indiana's voter-ID laws. Liberal Justice John Paul Stevens joined the majority in favor of a "conservative" outcome -- namely, a declaration that Indiana's law is constitutional.

Some Democrats complained that the ruling "dealt a blow to voting rights," as Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., wrote in an op-ed. But, in fact, the bipartisan strength of the ruling probably was inevitable. That's because a bipartisan commission had issued a major report in favor of voter ID laws as recently as 2005.

And the two chairmen of the commission, former Democratic President Jimmy Carter and former Republican Secretary of State James Baker, were hard to ignore.

"We propose a uniform system of voter identification based on the 'REAL ID card' or an equivalent for people without a drivers license," the commission declared.

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"To prevent the ID from being a barrier to voting, we recommend that states use the registration and ID process to enfranchise more voters than ever."

The Supreme Court cited the commission's report, much to the New York Times editorial board's chagrin. "The court's lead opinion quotes two long paragraphs from the report," a Times editorial complained after the ruling.

"By invoking Mr. Carter, it gives a nice bipartisan ring to a law passed by Republicans, evidently to disenfranchise Democrats. ... (S)ince Mr. Carter now bears at least a small part of the responsibility for it, we hope he will speak out against Indiana's voter ID law and urge other states not to adopt similar restrictions -- something yesterday's decision clears the way for."

But that's unlikely, given that Carter and Baker reaffirmed their support for voter ID laws as recently as January -- in, interestingly enough, an op-ed for The New York Times.

"The Supreme Court can lead the way on the voter ID issue," Carter and Baker declared in their op-ed.

"It has the opportunity to inspire the states, our national leaders and the entire country to bridge the partisan divide on a matter that is important to our democracy. It can support voter ID laws that make it easy to vote but tough to cheat."

In fairness, it's important to note that the 2005 commission gave equal weight to those conditions. Voter ID laws will make it tough to cheat; but at the same time, states should let poor people get the IDs for free and, if possible, at home or right down the block. Mobile offices that make it easy for people to get the IDs are one strategy, the commission declared.

Those are reasonable accommodations that answer the key worries about the law. Conservatives triumphed in the court by seeing voter-ID laws declared constitutional. These same conservatives now should be generous in victory and work to make the IDs reasonably easy to get in those states that choose to use them.

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