The legal team fighting Pennsylvania’s restrictive new voter identification law asked the state’s Supreme Court on Thursday to at least postpone until after November the measure that could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters, many of them minorities. “There’s too little time, there’s too many people affected and there’s no place in the statute that guarantees that qualified electors can get the ID they need to vote,” said David P. Gersch, representing the American Civil Liberties Union and other public interest groups. The three Democratic justices noted the nonexistence of the voter fraud the law is ostensibly designed to prevent, and repeatedly asked lawyers representing the state’s Republican-led legislature and Republican governor, “What’s the rush?” But even if the nation’s top courts were once a place where partisan differences were overcome, these days they are more likely to be one more place for partisan battles. On Thursday, the three Republican Supreme Court justices gave little indication that they would overrule a district court decision last month that let the law stand. In case of a tie, the lower court ruling would remain in effect.
Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was passed by the General Assembly in March, soon after Republicans took control. After an outpouring of new voters for President Barack Obama in 2008, voting-related laws have sprung up across the country wherever Republicans could pass them, with the effect of suppressing the votes of minorities, students and other demographic groups likely to vote Democratic.
Alfred Putnam, a private lawyer representing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, provided a blunt analysis of the issue on Thursday. “We live, unfortunately, in a very polarized world at the moment, where people believe one of two things,” he told the justices. Some “see the world in which voter fraud is a problem,” while others think “that just doesn’t really happen very much” and that “there will be countless number of people disenfranchised” if specific, state-issued photo IDs are required of would-be voters, he said. “In the Legislature’s world, we don’t believe there are countless numbers of people who won’t be able to get voter ID. You can believe that or not.” The state itself has conceded it has no evidence of prior in-person voter fraud or any reason to believe such crimes would occur with more frequency if a voter ID law wasn’t in effect.