Pa.'s lawyers argue to uphold voter ID law

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HARRISBURG -- Attorneys for the commonwealth and top officials argue in briefs filed with the Supreme Court on Friday that a lower court was right to uphold the new voter ID law.

The high court is scheduled to hear arguments on Thursday in a challenge under the state Constitution after a lower court in August declined to prevent the photo identification requirement from taking effect for the November elections. Voter identification laws have become a subject of political argument around the country, with Republicans supporting them as a protection against voter fraud and Democrats arguing they will disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

Attorneys representing the commonwealth argued in their legal filing that challengers of the Pennsylvania law did not meet the legal standard to merit postponing its implementation. The state attorneys asserted that each witness presented by the challengers either has acceptable photo identification or could obtain it, and that absentee ballots likely would be available to witnesses whose physical or mental conditions would make acquiring identification difficult.

In a court filing last week, attorneys for the groups contesting the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, argued the Commonwealth Court applied the wrong legal standard in assessing the potential harm of the voter ID law. The lower court was incorrect in requiring a showing of "inevitable" -- rather than "immediate" -- harm, the attorneys said.

In its filing on Friday, the commonwealth argued that the challengers had not even shown the law would cause immediate harm.

"Whether immediate or inevitable, the harm the individual appellants claimed they would suffer is disenfranchisement, yet the trial court concluded that all of them would be able to vote in November if they wanted to," attorneys for the commonwealth wrote.

In a separate brief filed on behalf of Gov. Tom Corbett and Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele, attorneys with the Philadelphia office of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP argued the legal challengers are incorrectly asking the courts to overrule a policy judgment of the Legislature.

"At the end of the day, the question the appellants want this court to answer is: Which policy is better?" the attorneys wrote. "This court has held on numerous occasions, however, that that question is one for the General Assembly, not the courts, to answer."

Both briefs note that the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a photo identification law against a federal constitutional challenge.

Attorneys for the commonwealth noted that state agencies have taken steps to make obtaining identification easier for people born in Pennsylvania and those with expired Department of Transportation identification. They also cited a new form of state-issued identification for people without the documents to secure a PennDOT card.

state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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