Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Remands Voter ID Law

Applying the Pennsylvania Constitutional provision that “no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.” PA. CONST. art. 1, § 5, in its opinion in Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court today remanded the question of the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's new "Voter ID" law back to the trial judge. 


Standing L-R: Justice McCaffery, Justice Baer, Justice Todd, Justice Orie Melvin {on suspension}
Seated L-R: Justice Saylor, Chief Justice Castille, Justice Eakin


In its 7 page ruling, the per curium majority stressed that the affected population involves "members of some of the most vulnerable segments of our society (the elderly, disabled members of our community, and the financially disadvantaged)."   As the ruling makes clear, the statute's original plan - - - that persons needing voter ID could easily obtain it from the Pennsylvanian Department of Transportation, PennDOT - - - was unworkable given PennDOT's rigorous requirements.  A bit less clearly, the opinion states:

Upon review, we find that the disconnect between what the Law prescribes and how it is being implemented has created a number of conceptual difficulties in addressing the legal issues raised. Initially, the focus on short-term implementation, which has become necessary given that critical terms of the statute have themselves become irrelevant, is in tension with the framing of Appellants’ challenge to the Law as a facial one (or one contesting the Law’s application across the widest range of circumstances). In this regard, however, we agree with Appellants’ essential position that if a statute violates constitutional norms in the short term, a facial challenge may be sustainable even though the statute might validly be enforced at some time in the future. Indeed, the most judicious remedy, in such a circumstance, is the entry of a preliminary injunction, which may moot further controversy as the constitutional impediments dissipate.

Absolutely clear, however, is the Supreme Court's remand to the Commonwealth Court and its vacating of that court's "predictive judgment" that there would be no voter dienfranchisement.  Instead, the lower court must "consider whether the procedures being used for deployment of the cards comport with the requirement of liberal access which the General Assembly attached to the issuance of PennDOT identification cards," and if not, issue a preliminary injunction against the voter ID law.  The Supreme Court ordered the lower court to issue its opinion on or before October 2.

There were two vigorous dissents, both arguing that the Supreme Court should not remand the issue. 

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Todd stated that in her view, "the time for prediction is over":

Forty-nine days before a Presidential election, the question no longer is whether the Commonwealth can constitutionally implement this law, but whether it has constitutionally implemented it. Despite impending near-certain loss of voting rights, despite the Commonwealth's admitted inability thus far to fully implement Act 18 and its acceptance that, presently, “the Law is not being implemented according to its terms,” and despite the majority's concession that the “most judicious remedy” in such circumstances would be to grant an injunction, the majority nonetheless allows the Commonwealth to virtually ignore the election clock and try once again to defend its inexplicable need to rush this law into application by November 6, 2012.

And in a dissenting opinion as long as the per curium, and in which Todd joined, Justice McCaffery made clear that not only should the court decide the matter, but that there was "no doubt that the record, as it is, establishes the immediate and irreparable harm required for the injunction." McCaffery also had some especially pointed words about the political process:

While I have no argument with the requirement that all Pennsylvania voters, at some reasonable point in the future, will have to present photo identification before they may cast their ballots, it is clear to me that the reason for the urgency of implementing Act 18 prior to the November 2012 election is purely political. That has been made abundantly clear by the House Majority Leader. Exhibit 42 at R.R. 2073a. I cannot in good conscience participate in a decision that so clearly has the effect of allowing politics to trump the solemn oath that I swore to uphold our Constitution. That Constitution has made the right to vote a right verging on the sacred, and that right should never be trampled by partisan politics.

Thus, it seems that at least two of the six sitting Justices would immediately enjoin the voter ID law, and four are waiting for a lower court judge to make additional findings but lean towards an injunction. [UPDATED INFO: Recall that Justice Orie Melvin is not on the court at present; Order of Suspension here.

[image: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices via]



Elections and Voting, State Constitutional Law | Permalink

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The Commonwealth got "PC'ed" [vacated per curiam] by the Supremes, suggesting that they entertain some doubt that all eligible voters will be able to get the required ID by Election Day. This is more or less a "procedendo" to Simpson to enjoin the law's effectiveness until after the General or else they will.

Posted by: Jeff Spangler | Sep 18, 2012 6:34:09 PM

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