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Time constraints necessitate a brief diary, but I thought this was worth posting -- a brief report in on today's PA Supreme Court argument on PA's controversial Voter ID law.

The Court hearing the appeal is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans -- a seventh judge (a Republican) is currently disqualified -- and heard the same arguments that were presented by the plaintiffs challenging the law that were presented to Commonwealth Court Judge Simpson, who upheld the law based on principles of deference to the legislature, despite what he acknowledge to be problems with the law.  

On appeal, plaintiffs argued that Simpson applied the wrong level of scrutiny to the law, and should have required the state to show that the restrictions in the law were narrowly tailored to achieve the purported legislative purpose of deterring voter impersonation fraud.  

According to a report in The Nation, the Democratic appointees on the Court were receptive to these arguments, and questioned why the law -- which was adopted in March of this year -- should be implemented for the upcoming 2012 election given the varying reports on how many people did not have access to state-sanctioned ID, and how little had been done by the state thus far to provide voters with such ID. A lawyer for the state reportedly acknowledged, in response to a question from the bench, that the confusion over the law could be eliminated by implementing it over the course of several elections, as the PA Bar Association had recommended.  

Keep reading below.....


On the other hand, according to the report, the Republicans on the Court sat mostly silent. Ominously, according to The Nation, "Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who overturned the GOP'€™s redistricting plans and is thought to be the swing justice on the court, stayed mostly silent and appeared irritated, at times, with the outspoken Democrats."  Getting at least one Republican appointee to side with the appellants is critical, as a tie will leave the lower court ruling upholding the law intact.

On the other hand, several other reports have noted that at least one of the Republican appointees asked questions that might suggest that he was concerned that the voter ID law does not guarantee PA citizens a right to vote:

There are some hints that at least one Republican justice could break ranks. At the hearing, Justice Thomas Saylor, a Republican, asked the state's lawyers whether the law guarantees every registered voter can cast a vote -- a question they could only answer in the negative.
The Nation's full report is can be found at* Dan Froomkin's report at Huff Po can be found at  A decision is expected within several weeks.  Keep your fingers crossed.

***Apologies for the link, for some reason my computer is not letting me link as usual.

12:54 PM PT: A commenter linked a second, somewhat more optimistic report on the arguments below.  It can be found at

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Comment Preferences

  •  They must feel very comfortable (10+ / 0-)

    that they will get re-elected no matter what, if they're going to create a situation that forces people to spend a lot of time dealing with PennDOT, when they don't even drive.

    There's smart, and there's K-mart smart. Sarah Palin is K-mart smart.

    by InsultComicDog on Thu Sep 13, 2012 at 11:59:07 AM PDT

  •  Could you or someone explain... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...the "one Republican disqualified" thing? It reads like a tie can not happen and at worst it will be 3-2 decision in our favor. Is that wrong?

    •  There are SEVEN judges on the Court (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Sharon Wraight, Stwriley, gramofsam1

      but one -- a Republican -- is currently disqualified from voting due to a pending investigation.  The six judges able to vote are split 3-3.  So the disqualification actually helps the appellants, as only one swing vote, and not two, will result in reversal.

    •  the 7th PA Sup Ct justice - has been indicted for (5+ / 0-)

      the 7th justice on the PA Supreme Court, a Republican, has been criminally indicted (not "under investigation") for corruption.  5/18/ 2012.  She illegally used the resources of her court staff while a judge on the lower PA Superior Court, to perform political work for her election to the PA Supreme Court.  She was indicted and awaits trial.  Her sister, a PA GOP state senator, was convicted of 14 counts of corruption in March.  Another sister, Janine, worked on the staff of the state senator sister, and was also convicted of corruption.  During the trial of the first sister, the sisters apparently falsified evidence that they submitted to the court in her defense and that has become the basis for additional criminal charges.  Both the State Supreme Court criminal sister and the state senator criminal sister ran as "law and order" and "traditional family values" Pennsylvania Republicans.  

  •  I just saw the AP report... (6+ / 0-)

    by Marc Levy and he had a very different take on the proceedings. He seemed to think that the justices had a much more skeptical and questioning attitude toward the state's lawyers. He even cites Justice Saylor (one of the Republicans) as questioning whether the law actually ensures that every eligible voter is able to vote regardless of ability to obtain an ID.

    This is the critical constitutional that the Court needs to decide. It all comes down to one of the basic provision of the PA Constitution, Article I, section 5:

    Elections shall be free and equal; and no power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage. [emphasis mine]
    That looks to me like the line that Justice Saylor was pursuing, and if so it's bad news for the state. After that last one, I'm not about to predict this outcome, but it looks like the situation may not be as dire as The Nation thinks it is.

    Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu The Art of War

    by Stwriley on Thu Sep 13, 2012 at 12:35:51 PM PDT

  •  What seems to be overlooked is that along (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    maybeeso in michigan, Stwriley

    with the presumption of innocence for people suspected of doing wrong, there is a presumption of probity. That is, individual behavior is a assumed to be good, unless there is evidence that it is not.
    While the presumption of innocence in a criminal proceeding has largely been reduced to serving as a starting point for the judicial process (not unlike a starter pistol), the asumption that people are good conflicts with the belief in original sin and the conviction that the state is instituted to make people behave whenever religion fails.
    This whole paradigm, of course, serves to justify the intense desire some people have to tell other people what to do and how to behave.
    People have to be presumed flawed in order to be corrected. People who believe that naturally see the law as a coercive tool. Even though the Constitution is addressed to agents of government, to direct their behavior, the agents are convinced that they are empowered to rule by virtue of their election.
    Disabusing our pu bloc servants of that erroneous notion is going to take some work.

    The picture ID industry is looking to suck at the public teat. Perhaps the decreasing use of credit cards as spurred the creation of a new market for the card-making equipment.

    We organize governments to provide benefits and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Thu Sep 13, 2012 at 12:44:17 PM PDT

  •  Wouldn't it make sense for the PA legislature to (0+ / 0-)

    direct funds to pay for the 67 county election boards to issue IDs and confirm the identities of the individuals who are already registered?

    I'm not a lawyer but it seems to me the biggest disenfranchisement issue  is that PENNDOT isn't actively reaching out to registered voters and can't because they don't know who they all are or where they live.

    Though the list of licensed drivers and others who may have sought to get a PENNDOT ID may overlap with those registered in any of PA's 67 counties, the lists of registered voters held by county boards of election are the ones that matter here.

    If the Commonwealth hasn't also changed the requirement for voter registration to require two forms of ID it would seem that the new system has started out with total voter disenfranchisement and even using PENNDOT's list of licensed drivers etc cannot assure that there are not substantial groups of voters who will by law become disenfranchised when they show up at their local polling places on 6 Nov without IDs, whether they actually have been issued them or not.

    "I'll press your flesh, you dimwitted sumbitch! " -Pappy O'Daniel

    by jakewaters on Tue Sep 18, 2012 at 02:40:44 PM PDT

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