Strategies will shift as the first court battle over Pennsylvania’s new law requiring voters to show valid photo identification heads to the state Supreme Court, while other legal hurdles could surface and political campaigns lumber toward the November election.
The law’s Republican backers and, they say, the integrity of the Nov. 6 presidential election were the winners of Wednesday’s decision by a state appellate judge to reject an injunction that would have halted the law from taking effect in November, as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality. About a dozen rights groups and registered voters filed an appeal Thursday. Democrats say the law will trample the right to vote for countless people in an echo of the now-unconstitutional poll taxes and literacy tests once designed to discriminate against poor and minority voters. The GOP-penned law, signed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in March and opposed by every Democratic lawmaker, has ignited a furious debate over voting rights in Pennsylvania, which is poised to play a starring role in deciding the presidential contest.
Lawyers are asking the state’s highest court for a speedy review of the appeal, requesting that oral arguments be scheduled during the court’s session in Philadelphia the week of Sept. 10.
At the state Supreme Court, votes by four justices would be needed to overturn Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s ruling. The high court is currently split between three Republicans and three Democrats following the recent suspension of Justice Joan Orie Melvin, a Republican who is fighting criminal corruption charges. A key focus on appeal is likely to be Simpson’s decision to give strong deference to the government, rather than put a heavier legal burden on it to justify a law that opponents say infringes on a constitutional right.
“I don’t know of any other state court that has ruled on photo ID that has applied such a low standard, that has protected the right to vote so little,” said Penda Hair, co-director of Advancement Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group that helped challenge the law.