PA Must Prove to Commonwealth Court That It Can Provide IDs by Election Day
There were a myriad of opinions when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released its ruling on the state’s Voter ID case yesterday. Some claimed the court “blocked” the law (which is not true); others called the court’s decision to send it back to the Commonwealth Court a “punt”; and still others—mostly those against the bill—called this a moderate win.
The court ruled 4-2 to send the case back to the Commonwealth Court under a new standard which looks at how the state is implementing its new Republican-friendly ID program.
For an ADD-friendly version of the ruling, check out PW scribe Tara Murtha’s blog on said subject.
The law was not blocked. But to figure out the answer as to why this was a win, there was a conference call shortly after the decision was issued to help explain things.
The call, which included lawyers from Arnold & Porter, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the Advancement Project and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (all of whom helped challenge the law), made note that the Commonwealth Court must now look at whether the state is able to hand out enough pieces of identification for those who want them by Election Day—something that was not considered during the original ruling.
As of Friday, PennDOT had issued 7,980 IDs, according to the Department of State. “The lowest [estimate of those lacking Voter ID] from state is 100,000,” noted Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of PA on the call. “You’ve got a substantial gap for the state to get to that.” (At the current trend, there will not be enough IDs issued by November 6th to meet state demand.) Other estimates have put those lacking proper ID to vote more than 750,000; and others, more than 1 million.
Thus far, the state has had multiple problems getting everyone IDs. In some cases, PennDOT has been unable to verify registrations, and there have been claims of the offices turning Pennsylvanians away.
During the initial ruling by the Commonwealth Court, Judge Robert Simpson put the burden of proof on the challengers and ruled that they hadn’t proven their case. Now the state is going to have to prove it can issue IDs so that all registered voters are able to, well, vote. And the Commonwealth Court needs to issue its new decision by Oct. 2.
“It’s certainly a victory in that it vacates the adverse decision from below,” said David Gersch, the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer. Gersch called the shift to the Commonwealth Court a “tough standard set by the Supreme Court” since the Commonwealth Court must now deal with numbers, not assurances, from the state “that no voter is being disenfranchised.” Previously, it was up to the challengers to make the case against the state. The ruling also means that, for now, the case is less about the Constitutionality of the law and more about whether the state can do its thing by November 6th. “The question no longer is whether the Commonwealth can constitutionally implement this law, but whether it has constitutionally implemented it,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd in dissent.
Assuming the Commonwealth Court rules in favor of the challengers this time (which is not guaranteed, whatsoever), the law will not be struck down—just blocked for the time being. In that case, it would likely be challenged again—and again! And again!—until the world finally says, Voter ID is for the birds, birds.