HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A judge postponed Pennsylvania's controversial voter identification requirement on Tuesday, ordering the state not to enforce it in this year's presidential election.A legal analysis of the decision will be coming later today from Adam Bonin.
The decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on the law requiring each voter to show a valid photo ID could be appealed to the state Supreme Court. The law could go into full effect next year, under Simpson's ruling.
However, Simpson based his decision on guidelines given to him days ago by the high court justices, and it could easily be the final word on the law just five weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
7:25 AM PT (Meteor Blades): After two days of hearings last week, attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the voter ID law filed a 26-page brief [pdf] arguing against a "limited injunction" in the case. Judge Simpson's injunction is limited, as he hinted last week that it might be, which prompted the post-hearing filing.
The plaintiffs stated in their brief that Pennsylvania had failed to meet the "liberal access" requirement of the law passed in March by not getting a mandated ID into the hands of "more than a tenth of the registered voters who lack acceptable identification." Even with changes in the implementation of the law that the state initiated last week, they argued, predictions that the situation will markedly improve in time for this election "are insufficient to avoid a preliminary injunction now."
In his mid-August ruling, Judge Simpson had upheld the voter ID law, the most restrictive in the nation. He said there was reason to believe state officials were working in good faith to provide IDs to every Pennsylvanian who wanted one in time for the election. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed and vacated his ruling.
The justices didn't buy Simpson's "predictive judgment" that the state would provide IDs without undue hassles. Four of them ordered him to take a new look at the case after reconsidering whether citizens were actually encountering onerous obstacles. Two other justices wanted to block implementation of the law immediately. The majority instructed Simpson to issue an injunction blocking implementation of the law if his reconsideration found that some people would be disfranchised even with the state's provision for free ID. The high court's ruling was essentially a try-it-again-and-get-it-right-this-time order.
In last week's hearings, which Brentin Mock has written about valuably here, Simpson listened to testimony about the obstacles encountered in obtaining IDs. These included stories of long waits, multiple trips to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, difficulty in getting basic documentation and other problems. In the midst of this, the state loosened its rules on obtaining a "last resort" ID through the Pennsylvania Department of State. The provision of the DOS IDs complicated things.
But the plaintiffs nevertheless argued in their post-hearing brief Friday that there was no guarantee that the new procedures would be enough to provide all voters equal access to IDs. They also argued that if Simpson issued an injunction only against the law's provisional ballot section, it would create a "bifurcated system" and "naked disenfranchisement" of people who had in the past cast ballots without hurdles placed in their way:
The Commonwealth’s new procedures for issuing [ID cards] do not justify denying the preliminary injunction. Already once in this case, the Supreme Court has refused to accept “a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials, even though [the Court had] no doubt they are proceeding in good faith.” [...]
The new procedures adopted on Tuesday morning provide no evidence about voters’ actual “experience” with the [ID cards]. Indeed, no Commonwealth witness offered any testimony about how well the new procedures may actually be working and
could do no more than offer the Court more assurances that they would proceed in good faith.