Judge Simpson denies supplemental injunction petition in Voter ID case

By Jon Campisi | Nov 1, 2012

The Pennsylvania judge overseeing the Voter ID case has denied a petition for a

supplemental injunction that sought to bar the commonwealth from continuing to release Voter ID related ads despite the fact that an injunction had already been issued in the case.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on Nov. 1 denied the recent petition that was filed by the ACLU of Pa. and other civil rights attorneys on behalf of the class of plaintiffs that had successfully sued the state over its controversial Voter ID law, which sought to mandate that all eligible voters present photo identification at the polls.

Simpson initially refused to issue an injunction, ruling that the law appeared constitutional on its face.

The plaintiffs appealed to the state Supreme Court, which vacated Simpson’s initial ruling and sent the case back down to the lower court for additional review.

Upon second glance, Simpson agreed to issue the injunction barring the law from being enforced during the November general election, but allowing it to proceed next year.

It is expected to meet further challenges once this election season is over.

On Oct. 19, the plaintiffs’ attorneys petitioned the court to issue a supplemental injunction prohibiting the state from continuing to air television advertisements and send out household mailers telling people they must show ID in order to vote in November.

In his Nov. 1 order, however, Simpson denied the request, writing that the petitioners offered no evidence to back up their claim that if the state’s education efforts on the law continue, people will simply stay and home and forgo voting.

“Because Petitioners offer no new evidence on the ‘staying home’ disenfranchisement claim, it is doubtful that they will now prevail on this point,” Simpson wrote. “The parties strongly dispute whether Respondents’ education efforts are misleading. However, I need not resolve this dispute now because Petitioners never offered credible proof that Respondents’ education program is likely to cause disenfranchisement.”

Simpson also determined that because of sovereign immunity, it is “very doubtful” that he can legally compel the commonwealth from taking most of the steps sought by plaintiffs in their supplemental injunction petition.

Simpson said it is unlikely the petitioners would prevail on the merits of their claim.

Another basis to question whether the petitioners would prevail is rooted in their suggestion that the commonwealth’s education campaign violates sections of the state election code that prohibits any “person” from taking certain fraudulent actions or interfering with the free exercise of the elective franchise.

Simpson, however, wrote that the commonwealth parties in question do not qualify as “persons” under the code.

Finally, Simpson wrote that as a practical matter, a mandatory injunction should not be granted when its enforcement will require too great an amount of supervision by the court.

“Petitioners’ invitation to manage the conspicuity and comparability of disclaimers in all Commonwealth broadcast, print, electronic, Internet or other advertisements, displays and robocalls leading up to Election Day contemplates an endeavor for which courts are ill-suited,” Simpson wrote. “Because Petitioners seek too great an amount of supervision by the Court, it is unlikely they will prevail on the merits.”

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