ACLU files brief with Pa. Supreme Court in Voter ID appeal

By Jon Campisi | Sep 6, 2012

Attorneys representing those challenging the state’s new Voter ID law filed a brief with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week urging the justices to overturn a lower court ruling that let stand the controversial measure, which opponents say will disproportionately affect minority, poor and elderly voters.

Lawyers with the Pennsylvania office of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Consulting Attorney Advancement Project and the Washington, D.C. firm Arnold & Porter, filed the 58-page brief on behalf of their clients, who contend the law discriminates against a certain segment of the voting population by making it unduly burdensome to obtain a photo ID just for the purposes of casting election ballots.

The high court has scheduled oral arguments in the appeal for Sept. 13 during its Philadelphia session.

The appeal challenges a recent decision by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson that upheld the constitutionality of the law, which requires all Pennsylvania voters to show pre-approved forms of identification before voting.

The law is scheduled to be in effect during the upcoming presidential election.

Simpson had ruled that while some voters might be negatively affected by the law, the legislation itself, on its face, appears to be constitutional.

The appellants take issue with Simpson’s reasoning.

“Even Commonwealth Court agreed that as many as several hundred thousand voters without valid ID are at risk for disenfranchisement,” the plaintiffs’ brief states. “Yet this grave risk to the legitimacy of Pennsylvania’s election is counterbalanced by no governmental interest because the Commonwealth stipulated that the only form of fraud prevented by requiring photo ID is not ‘likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.’”

The law’s proponents, mostly Republican state legislators, contend the law is needed to protect against instances of voter fraud.

Opponents argue that there is an ulterior motive, namely, to keep those who tend to vote Democratic from being able to vote come November.

In their brief, filed Aug. 30, the plaintiffs’ attorneys noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has previously held that depriving even one person of the right to vote is an “extremely serious matter,” and that disenfranchising 5,506 voters would be “unconscionable.”

“The substantial and immediate risk that far more voters than that will be denied the franchise on November 6 warrants relief,” the brief states. “For the foregoing reasons, Appellants respectfully request that this Court reverse Commonwealth Court’s denial of a preliminary injunction, and direct Commonwealth Court to enter a preliminary injunction.”

Oral arguments on the matter will be held Sept. 13 at 9:30 a.m. in the Supreme Court’s courtroom at Philadelphia City Hall.

The Pennsylvania Cable Network will also air the proceedings on live television.

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