HARRISBURG, PA — A Pennsylvania judge has permanently blocked the Commonwealth's controversial Voter ID Law, which had previously been blocked by courts from being enforced in the 2012 and 2013 elections.
Opponents of the law, which included most of the Democrats in the state legislature, maintained from its inception that the law was intended to suppress voter turnout, especially among minorities and seniors.
Supporters of the law, which included Gov. Tom Corbett and most Republicans in the legislature, insisted the law was intended to protect elections from in-person voter fraud. But lawyers, who were defending the law in court, stipulated early on that they knew of no instances of the type of fraud the law was meant to prevent, either in Pennsylvania or in any other state.
In the opinion, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley wrote that the law “does not pass constitutional muster because there is no legal, non-burdensome provision of a compliant photo ID to all qualified electors.”
In an attempt to allay concerns about the ease of obtaining a photo ID that complies with the law, the Corbett administration created a special voter-only ID, but the judge said that ID “is fraught with illegalities and dubious authority.”
He also said that the estimated hundreds of thousands of residents, who do not possess photo IDs that would comply with the law, would be disenfranchised. He wrote, “Inescapably, the Voter ID Law infringes upon qualified electors’ right to vote,” which he said is unconstitutional.
The opinion was handed down on January 17, and opponents of the law were quick to issue press releases. Michael A. Rubin of Arnold & Porter LLP, a member of the plaintiffs’ legal team, which also includes the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Advancement Project, said, “In striking down this law, the court recognized that constitutional rights, especially the most fundamental right to vote, protect us from the government and cannot be taken away on the whim of that government."
A press release from the law firm said, “Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, which was passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Corbett in March of 2012, was one of the most restrictive in the nation and did not allow many commonly used identification cards for voting. Most voters would have been forced to travel to one of only 71 Pennsylvania Department of Transportation locations to obtain state-issued identification.
The law especially burdened the elderly, those with limited mobility and disabilities, individuals with fewer resources and the homeless.”
The press release also said if the Corbett administration appeals the decision the organizations fighting the law would continue to do so.
Democrats in the legislature urged Corbett not to appeal the decision. State Sen. Anthony Williams wrote, “Unfortunately, the administration is likely to waste more tax dollars during a bad economy to take their case to the state Supreme Court. It’s time to end this right now.”
State Sen. Jim Brewster echoed that, saying, “If there is an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I hope this law is seen for exactly what it is: a poorly disguised attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise voters.”
It was not immediately clear if the Corbett administration would appeal, but Republicans immediately came to the defense of the law.
Rob Gleason, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania released a statement saying, “The overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians support a way to protect their right to vote and combat voter fraud. While I am extremely disappointed with today’s decision, the Republican Party of Pennsylvania will continue to serve as a leading advocate for policies that ensure a fair right to vote for all Pennsylvanians.”
Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati wrote that the judge was ignoring rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court by blocking “common sense voter ID law supported by a vast majority of Pennsylvanians.”