Supreme Court ‘punts’ on soter ID law

North Penn Life - - OBITUARIES - By Linda Finarelli OFIQDUHOOL@PRQWJRP- be no

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.”

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