Supreme Court ‘punts’ on soter ID law
Whether or not Pennsylvanians will be required to show a state-approved “valid” photo ID in order to vote in the Nov. 6 election is still up in the air.
The state Supreme Court issued a majority opinion Tuesday, in effect declining to issue a preliminary injunction to stay the state’s soter ID law, instead sending the question back to the Commonwealth Court. Justices Seamus McCaffery and Debra McCloskey Todd dissented.
In August, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson denied a request by civil rights groups for a preliminary injunction blocking implementation of a new photo ID requirement. Those who challenged the law, known as Act 18, appealed to the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments at a Sept. 13 hearing.
The court noted that while there is debate over the number of potentially affected voters, it is agreed that those who may be burdened by obtaining the proper ID to vote in time for the November election include the elderly, poor and disabled.
The Commonwealth Court predicted the state’s “efforts to educate the voting public, coupled with the remedial efforts being made to compensate for the constraints on the issuance of D 3HQQD27 LGHQWLfiFDWLRQ FDUG, wLOO uOWLPDWHOy EH VuIficient to forestall the possibility of disenfranchisement,” the opinion states.
Those requesting the preliminary injunction “at least in the abstract” did not disagree that the state could require a photo ID from voters, but found fault with its implementation, the majority wrote.
diven the Legislature’s effort to enact the soter ID law “within a relatively short timeframe and an implementation process which has by no means been seamless,” the opinion says, “… wH DUH QRW VDWLVfiHG wLWK D mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government offiFLDOV, HYHQ WKRuJK wH KDYH no doubt they are proceeding in good faith.”
The matter is being returned to the Commonwealth Court to determine “the actual availability of WKH DOWHUQDWH LGHQWLfiFDtion cards,” and whether voters can easily obtain those cards. If the court is not convinced “that there will voter disenfranchisement arising out of the commonwealth’s implementation of a voter LGHQWLfiFDWLRQ UHTuLUHPHQW for purposes of the upcoming election, that court is obliged to enter a preliminary injunction,” the opinion states.
In her dissent, Justice Todd wrote that “the time for prediction is over” regarding the lower court’s reconsideration of whether the law would disenfranchise voters.
“Forty-nine days before a presidential election, the question no longer is whether the commonwealth can constitutionally implement this law, but whether it has constitutionally implemented it,” Todd wrote. “Despite impending nearcertain loss of voting rights … and despite the majority’s concession that the ‘most judicious remedy’ in such circumstances would be to grant an injunction, the majority nonetheless allows the commonwealth to virtually ignore the election clock and try once again to defend its inexplicable need to rush this law into application by November 6, 2012.”
The lower court should have granted the preliminary injunction, Todd wrote, concluding, “The eyes of the nation are upon us, and this court has chosen to punt rather than to act. I will have no part of it.”
Justice McCaffery, who joined Todd in her dissent, wrote that “a new prediction from the lower court will KDYH QR PRUH OHJDO VLJQLficance before this court than the existing one, and I predict that, once again, we will be presented with a record that establishes that many thousands — indeed, ultimately uncountable numbers — of RWKHUwLVH TuDOLfiHG HOHFtors will lack a photo ID for purposes of the upcoming election, and hence will be disenfranchised, despite the commonwealth’s last ditch efforts to loosen the standards established by Act 18.”
Efforts by the state since the law was passed to relax the procedures to obtain a valid voter ID “may be laudable,” he wrote, but the timeframe to do so has not EHHQ VuIfiFLHQW.
McCaffery noted that the state stipulated in Commonwealth Court that there was no evidence of in-person voter fraud or any expectation that such would occur in the November election, and referenced a statement by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai at a state committee meeting that the law would enable Mitt Romney to win the state.
“While I have no argument with the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters, at some reasonable point in the future, will have to present photo idenWLfiFDWLRQ EHIRUH WKHy PDy cast their ballots, it is clear to me that the reason for the urgency of implementing Act 18 prior to the November 2012 election is purely political,” McCaffery wrote. “I cannot in good conscience participate in a decision that so clearly has the effect of allowing politics to trump the solemn oath that I swore to uphold our Constitution.”