Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law Thrown Out by Trial Court Judge
Rae Lynn Chornenky
When Pennsylvania Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson first considered Pennsylvania's photo ID voting law this summer, he upheld Pennsylvania's new law (Robert Barnes, "Judge Blocks ID Law in Pa.," Washington Post, October 3, 2012).
Because of the strictness of the Pennsylvania law--which allows only for certain types of acceptable IDs--opponents argued that the process for securing the ID is unwieldy and, for some, almost impossible. Nevertheless, Simpson ruled that a voter ID requirement is a "reasonable, non-discriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life."
As Simpson's ruling was being examined by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, that high court agreed that the law "might be constitutional." It instructed Simpson to obtain more information regarding the State's ability to issue the required IDs in time for elections in order that no voter would be disenfranchised.
It was this point that caused Simpson to rule on Tuesday that the State had not met its assigned burden of issuing enough of the required voter IDs. "I expected more photo IDs to have been issued by this time," Simpson ruled. He then made a finding agreeing with what opponents of the voter ID law had claimed and ruled in their favor accepting their argument that "in the remaining five weeks before the general election, the gap between the photo IDs issued and the estimated need [remaining] will not be closed."
It is important to note the grounds on which Pennsylvania's voter ID law was 'thrown out' five weeks before the general election. The law itself was not ruled unconstitutional in any way. Indeed, the trial court at first upheld the law. The only reason the voter ID law was rejected by the court on Tuesday, October 5, 2012, was that the State had not been able to show that it had issued enough of the required photo IDs to Pennsylvania voters who needed them in time for the general election. A matter of mere timing is all that the court ruled upon, not the constitutionality of the proposed law.
Voter ID proponents across the country need to be aware of the details and legal points upon which court rulings are made and then enact voter ID laws which are in concert with such rulings. Voter ID laws have not necessarily been thrown out on constitutional law grounds but on administrative grounds that the states can remedy.
While the media appears to relish each opportunity to report about voter ID laws which are thrown out in court, they fail to mention when voter ID laws are upheld. In the Republican Lawyer Blog October 3rd, Maya Noronha, pointed out that just in the past week a Tennessee judge dismissed a case challenging the State's voter ID law. The Tennessee court ruled that challengers to the voter ID law were not harmed and had no standing to challenge the law. Ms. Noronha added that another recent victory for a voter ID law was scored with the August ruling of the Minnesota Supreme Court. She referred to landmark approvals of voter ID laws in Indiana, where the United States Supreme Court upheld that State's voter ID law, and in Georgia, whose voter ID law earned preclearance by the Department of Justice.