Voter ID May Be Overturned in PA

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is sending signals that the photo ID law passed by the state legislature is likely to be struck down. A lower court upheld the constitutionality of the law, but the high court vacated that ruling and remanded the case back, with orders for the state to show how — if — they can avoid disfranchising any voters in the process the law created.

The Supreme Court ordered per curiam—meaning unsigned by the six justices—that the Commonwealth Court must re-examine the implementation of certain provisions of the law. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who ruled in August in favor of the law, must decide if the way the state presently administers free photo voter ID cards to those who can’t get regular state-issued id cards is in compliance with the law—something the state already conceded in court that it doesn’t, and can’t for good reasons…

But the important thing about the higher court’s ruling, as Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Vic Walczak told reporters yesterday, is that civil rights lawyers no longer have to show and prove that the law is burdensome. Instead, the state has to prove the law’s current implementation won’t lead to disenfranchisement of any voters. Meaning the numbers that have been flung around about whether 100,000 or 1 million voters don’t have ID are now hardly relevant—if one voter will be disenfranchised, then the law can’t stand for November.

Says the court’s order: “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.”

“They left very little room here for the trial judge to do anything but enjoin the ID requirement,” says Allen. “[Simpson] has to determine without relying just on assurances from the government that no voters will be disenfranchised, which is a tough determination to make.”

Some of you may remember Vic Walczak. He was the ACLU attorney who worked on the Dover case in 2005, along with Richard Katske of Americans United, Eric Rothschild and many other attorneys from Pepper Hamilton.

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  • John Phillips, FCD

    Damn activist judges. /right wing rant mode on.

  • MikeMa

    What are the deadlines associated with the PA law? When must the idiot lower court judge respond by?

  • greg1466

    Well, as a PA resident, I’m still concerned. While it is a step in the right direction, I would have much preferred for the Supreme Court to just strike it down outright. It worries me that it is remanded back to a judge who appeared to have an obvious bias in the case to come to his original decision.

  • John Phillips, FCD

    gregg, it looks to me as if the SC has just told him to do his job with due diligence or they’ll stomp on him next time, especially with the way they worded it.

  • alanb

    Heard a headline on the local news the other day about how the state Tea Party is apoplectic about this decision and is going to do everything possible to defeat the 2 SC judges up for re-election in 2014, etc. Another data point in discussion about whether the Tea Party is racist or not.

  • Gvlgeologist, FCD

    @alanb: It strikes me that assuming that the law is struck down, that will make it that much harder to defeat the 2 SC judges!

  • neXus

    Eric Rothschild – the guy who said “I have been waiting 15 years for this case” about Dover?

  • greg1466

    And this is right along the lines of what I was worried about. The good news is that Judge Simpson ruled today that the PhotoID requirement can not be enforced for November election. The bad news is that he also ruled that

    voter education efforts that a photo ID is required to cast a ballot

    can continue and that

    election officials also can ask for photo identification, but cannot prevent people from voting if they don’t have it.

    Both of which I can very easily see leading to people not voting because they think they need an ID.