Pennsylvania Supreme Court sends Voter ID back to lower court


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HARRISBURG -- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to revisit its decision that allowed the new voter ID law to remain in effect for the November elections.

If Commonwealth Court finds the state's implementation of the law will disenfranchise voters in November, the high court has ordered it to issue an injunction.

In its decision not to stop the law immediately, the high court ruled that Commonwealth Court relied on judgments about how the state would educate voters and provide access to acceptable forms of identification. The justices wrote that lawmakers have made "an ambitious effort" to put the photo identification requirement in place by the upcoming elections but that state agencies face "serious operational constraints" in doing so.

Given that, the justices wrote, they are not satisfied with a decision based on assurances of what the state will do to ensure all voters have acceptable identification.

They ordered Commonwealth Court to issue a new decision by Oct. 2 based on the present availability of identification.

"The court is to consider whether the procedures being used for deployment of the cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of PennDOT identification cards," the order says.

"If they do not, or 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."

The voter ID requirement passed the Legislature with Republican support and was signed into law in March by Gov. Tom Corbett. It requires voters to show one of several forms of photo identification at the polls.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and other groups filed suit, claiming the law violates the state Constitution and would disenfranchise many Pennsylvania voters. After a week of testimony, the Commonwealth Court in August declined to stop the law.

Supreme Court Justices Seamus McCaffery and Debra McCloskey Todd filed dissenting statements.

Justice Todd wrote that she would reverse the lower court's decision, not return the matter for further consideration. She wrote of an "impending near-certain loss of voting rights" and said the court was allowing the state to essentially ignore the short timeline before the election.

"The eyes of the nation are upon us, and this Court has chosen to punt rather than to act," she wrote.

Justice McCaffery concluded in another dissent that the evolving efforts by state agencies to implement the law "are a tacit admission that (the law) is simply not ready for the prime time" of the November election. He wrote that further hearings are unnecessary and that the high court should order the lower court to issue an injunction.

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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