PENNSYLVANIA – A Pennsylvania judge rejected a challenge to the state’s controversial new voter ID law today. Lawyers for the groups bringing the suit, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), the Advancement Project, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the Washington, DC, law firm of Arnold & Porter, had argued that the law puts up unconstitutional barriers to the fundamental right to vote and threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people without valid ID. The groups plan to appeal the judge’s decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
In a lengthy opinion Judge Robert Simpson wrote, “Petitioners established that to the extent Act 18 will operate to prevent the casting or counting of in-person votes of qualified electors in the general election, those electors would suffer irreparable harm irreparable harm that cannot be adequately compensated by money damages.
“Petitioners did not establish, however, that the disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable. On the contrary, the more credible evidence on this issue was that offered through Commonwealth witnesses. I was convinced that efforts by the Department of State, the Department of Health, PennDot and other commonwealth agencies and interested groups will fully educate the public and DOS, PennDOT and the secretaries of those agencies will comply with the mandates of Section of the Election Code. Further, I was convinced that Act 18 will be implemented by Commonwealth agencies in a non-partisan, even-handed manner.”
Jennifer Clarke, executive director, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said in a conference call with reporters, “The key to this opinion was the standard that was applied to a law the burdens a right to vote. We argued that the court should apply a strict scrutiny standard, which is a standard that requires the state to show a a compelling state interest that is narrowly addressed by the law. We argued that the right to vote is fundamental. The opinion did not use that standard, instead it applied a much more lenient standard that gives the legislature lots of deference.”
When asked about similar cases in Missouri and Wisconsin Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, said “In Missouri there’s a very clear precedent that under the Missouri state constitution that voting is a fundamental right and any burden on the right to vote must survive strict scrutiny. There are also recent decisions in Wisconsin applying state law and either applying strict scrutiny standard, or a much higher standard that this court applied … I don’t know of any other state court which has ruled on photo ID or a similar barrier that used such a low standard and has protected the right to vote so little.”
PRESS RELEASES League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania
226 Forster Street
Harrisburg, PA 17102-3220
717.234.1576 x 15
PENNSYLVANIA COURT UPHOLDS VOTER ID LAW
League of Women Voters Lawsuit unsuccessful in halting voter ID law
Today, in spite of strong testimony and the failure of state officials to provide any evidence of voter fraud by impersonation, the lawsuit brought by American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania in which the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania was the lead organizational plaintiff, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania upheld the state’s photo identification law passed earlier this year. The League of Women Voters is appalled by this decision. This is the first time in recent months that voting rights groups have been unsuccessful in blocking implementation of these voter suppression laws. The states that have halted voter ID laws include Texas, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.
“We are disappointed that the Pennsylvania court has upheld this voter suppression law. Recently, when similar laws in other states have been reviewed by a court or the U.S. Department of Justice they have been deemed to be discriminatory, and we believe this to be the case in Pennsylvania,” said Elisabeth MacNamara, President of the League of Women Voters of the United States.
“We are dismayed with the decision of the court. The League is discouraged but undaunted. It’s a sad day for citizens when political rhetoric wins over democracy. We will continue to work to educate voters about voter identification requirements and help people get a photo ID while we await the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision. All who read the testimony or were present in the courtroom were moved by the compelling stories of witnesses who shared the impact of this law on our most precious right to vote. As many as 1.2 million eligible voters could be disenfranchised in November’s election if the Supreme Court allows Judge Simpson’s ruling to stand. The erosion of one person’s right to vote impacts each of us” said Olivia Thorne, President of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania.
“Time and time again these laws have been found to be illegal. It is time to realize that these voter suppression laws cannot and should not be enacted in any state; they are legally and morally unjustifiable. It is time for us to move beyond the rhetoric and work to pass new laws that will ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote can vote and will have their vote counted without any undue barriers. Nothing less than our democracy is at stake,” concluded MacNamara.
It is expected that today’s decision will be appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Judge Rejects Challenge to PA’s Voter ID Law
Tele-Press Conference with Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Scheduled for 1:00 p.m. Today
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 15, 2012
PENNSYVLANIA – A Pennsylvania judge rejected a challenge to the state’s controversial new voter ID law today. Lawyers for the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), the Advancement Project, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and the Washington, DC, law firm of Arnold & Porter, had argued that the law puts up unconstitutional barriers to the fundamental right to vote and threatens to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people without valid ID. The groups plan to appeal the judge’s decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. There will be a tele-press conference with the lawyers representing the plaintiffs today at 1 p.m. to explain the decision (call-in information below).
“I just can’t believe it,” said Viviette Applewhite, the 93-year-old lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Too many people have fought for the right to vote to have it taken away like this. All I want is to be able to vote this November like I always have. This law is just ridiculous.”
During the recent seven-day trial, lawyers for the petitioners established that in person voter fraud is exceedingly rare, hundreds of thousands of voters are at risk of being disenfranchised if the law stays in place, and the commonwealth is woefully unprepared to ensure that every voter who needs ID will get one before Election Day. The new Department of State “for voting only” ID is not yet available and not every voter will qualify for one. Prior to the trial, the commonwealth stipulated that it knows of no in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania. Supporters of the law claimed that the law was necessary to stop voter fraud.
The following statement can be attributed to Jennifer Clarke, executive director, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP):
“The determined men and women who came to court to describe their love of this country because we can all participate through the ballot box, will simply have to wait for another day and another court to vindicate this most cherished of all rights.”
The following statement can be attributed to David Gersch, Arnold & Porter:
‘We are disappointed but will seek to appeal. At trial, we demonstrated that there are about a million registered voters who lack the ID necessary to vote under Pennsylvania’s photo ID law. If the court’s decision stands, a lot of those people will not be able to vote in November.”
The following statement can be attributed to Penda Hair, co-director, Advancement Project:
“This is a huge setback for the right to vote. It’s contrary to core American values and sadly takes us back to a dark place in our country’s history. We hope the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will see through this and affirm that all Pennsylvania voters have a right to be heard at the ballot box.”
The following statement can be attributed to Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director, ACLU of Pennsylvania:
“Given clear evidence that impersonation fraud is not a problem, we had hoped that the court would show greater concern for the hundreds of thousands of voters who will be disenfranchised by this law.”
There will be a tele-press conference TODAY at 1 p.m. to explain today’s decision and answer questions.
What: Voter ID tele-press conference with plaintiffs’ lawyers
Who: Jennifer Clarke, PILCOP
David Gersch, Arnold & Porter
Penda Hair, Advancement Project
Vic Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania