Pennsylvania Supreme Court

  • October 2, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    After being ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reconsider an earlier ruling, a state judge reversed course and temporarily blocked several provisions of the state’s ridiculously rigid voter identification law.

    In Sept. the state’s high court threw the case back to Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ordering him to reexamine whether the state’s process for obtaining the voter ID cards unduly impeded the right to vote. If Judge Simpson could not be convinced “that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement,” he would be “obliged to enter a preliminary injunction,” the state Supreme Court ruled.

    In testimony before Simpson the state argued that changes could be made to make it easier for voters to obtain the ID cards. In today’s ruling, Simpson noted problems he had with the state’s changes. For one thing, Simpson wrote, “the proposed changes are accompanied by candid admissions by government officials that any new deployment will reveal unforeseen problems which impede implementation.”

    Ultimately it was concern over disenfranchisement that led Simpson to bar some of the ID law, saying he was not “convinced in my predictive judgment that there will be no voter disenfranchisement arising out of the Commonwealth’s implementation of a voter identification requirement for the purposes of the upcoming election.”

    But Simpson did not reject the state’s effort to implement a voter ID law. The judge said he rejected the argument that the “offending activity is the request to produce photo ID; instead, I conclude that the salient offending conduct is voter disenfranchisement.”

    So Simpson said he would not bar election officials from asking for photo IDs at the polls, but that voters could not be turned away if they could not produce the new voter IDs. The voter disenfranchisement, Simpsons said, was found in the law’s requirement surrounding provisional ballots.

    The voter ID law, one of several recently enacted throughout the country, was a partisan affair, with one of its sponsors telling a gathering of Republicans that it would help Mitt Romney carry the state in November.

    Another of the law’s supporters, state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), blasted Simpson’s ruling today as so-called judicial activism, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Rep. Metcalfe said today’s court action was “skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID.”

  • September 18, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Pennsylvania’s top court has ordered a lower court judge to reconsider whether a preliminary injunction should be entered against the state’s ridiculously rigid voter ID law. Pennsylvania’s voter ID law signed into law by the state’s Republican governor creates significant hurdles for people to vote, especially for some of the state’s most vulnerable. Other states, mostly controlled by conservative policymakers, have also pushed through stringent voter ID requirements.

    In August, a state judge dismissed arguments that the new law, enacted “along purely partisan lines,” as the Philadelphia Inquirer puts it, would hinder the ability of minorities, students, low-income people and the elderly to vote in the forthcoming general election. (A report by The Brennan Center for Justice, which examined the Pa. voter ID law along with similarly onerous ones in other states such as Texas and Wisconsin, found that the process for obtaining voter identifications was so onerous that more than a million people in the studied states could be barred from voting. “These voters can be particularly affected by the significant costs for the documentation required to obtain photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. By comparison the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era cost $10.64 in current dollars,” The Brennan Center stated.)

    The Sept. 18 order from the Pa. Supreme Court first noted that the state’s Constitution declares that “elections must be free and equal and ‘no power, civil, or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.’” The high court tossed the case back to the lower court judge with the order to ensure that implementation of the Voter ID law did not unconstitutionally interfere with the right to vote.