Pennsylvania’s most controversial law of the year is still planned to go into effect, after a ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson.
Simpson decided this morning and issued a 70-page opinion denying the plaintiffs an injunction to stop the law.
The ACLU had argued that many voting blocs – including senior citizens, students, minorities and the poor – would be barred from casting their ballots if the law was upheld. Simpson did not see it that way.
The docket sheet read: “After hearing and after consideration of the oral and written arguments of counsel, it is ordered and decreed as follows: Petitioners’ Application for Preliminary Injunction is denied.”
He also pointed to the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding an Indiana Voter ID law despite the absence – and proof of the absence – of voter fraud in the state. Simpson said the lack of fraud does not mean that the law cannot stand.
Furthermore, to have obtained the injunction, six criteria must be have been met by the plaintiffs.
It must be proved that the injunction is the only way to prevent “immediate and irreparable” damage that cannot be compensated with monetary reward; that greater harm would come from not granting the injunction; that the injunction will restore both parties to the “status quo” that existed before (in this case, before the law was passed); that the petitioner is likely to prevail in a full trial on the merits of their case; that the injunction is reasonably suited to prevent the “offending activity”; and that the public interest will not be harmed if the injunction is granted.
Simpson ruled that the plaintiffs failed to meet three of the standards.
Immediate and irreparable harm
First, he said that there is no proof that the plaintiffs would be inevitably disenfranchised, and the argument that PennDOT workers unaware of the law’s provisions would attempt to charge fees for the ID were harms that could be resolved monetarily by compensation for the paid fees.
He also said that the Department of State and other agencies showed their commitment to educating the public about the law – he also cited the new IDs to be issued by the Department of State as one of the ways many problems presented by the plaintiffs could be resolved, as well as the removal of red tape from obtaining necessary documents to get ID.
He added that he is “not convinced any qualified elector need be disenfranchised.”
Greater injury from refusing the injunction
Simpson ruled that the education and outreach performed by the Commonwealth and through the Corbett administration is much harder to stop now that it has started, because the Department of State is already in the process of issuing their IDs, mailers have been sent informing voters of the law and other informational advertisements have been set up via billboards, automated calls and TV commercials.
Success on the merits
While the plaintiffs made a good argument, the judge said, he was not convinced that they would prevail on the merits of the case.
Simpson also ruled that, on its face, the law is applied equally to every voter in the Commonwealth and not targeted at a specific group so as to disenfranchise them. As an election regulation, and not an amendment to Pennsylvania’s Constitution trying to change voters’ necessary qualifications specifically, he said it was not unconstitutional to merely ask a voter to provide identification and within the purview of a state to regulate elections.
Rep. Mike Turzai
Simpson said he considered potential partisan motivation to law in general, and took note of the “the disturbing, tendentious statements made by House Majority Leader Michael Turzai to a Republican party gathering in particular.” He said that despite the evidence of these statements and the possibility that others share his view, the evidence presented still does not invalidate the other interests involved in preserving the law – despite Turzai’s comments.
And while he called Turzai’s views “boastful,” he declined to speculate that other members of the General Assembly share the same views
He also said that if a “nondiscriminatory law is supported by valid neutral justifications” for it, then those views should not be thrown aside simply because partisan interests may have been “one motivation for the votes of individual legislators.”
The ACLU is expected to appeal the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court, which currently sits at a 3-3 split between the two major parties, with Republican Justice Jane Orie Melvin suspended from participation while facing charges that she improperly used court staff for campaign purposes.
The Court will not be able to fill a seventh slot in time to sway the deadlocked bench, so neither party can rely on a decision there – although court watchers doubt they will vote strictly along party lines. As reported by Capitolwire’s Peter DeCoursey last week, Simpson “will not only have the first word on this, but likely the last.”