Commonwealth lawyer reportedly agrees to extending injunction in Voter ID challenge through November

By Jon Campisi | Aug 2, 2013

Lawyers representing the commonwealth in the case challenging

Lawyers representing the commonwealth in the case challenging

Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID law have reportedly agreed to extending a temporary injunction barring the law from taking effect through November’s municipal elections.

On Thursday, the Legal Intelligencer reported that during her closing arguments in a Harrisburg courtroom, attorney Alicia Hickok, a partner with the firm Drinker Biddle & Reath, said that the state could agree to extending Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s injunction through the end of the year in order for the court to have more time to fully deliberate on the merits of the case.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights attorneys are challenging Act 18, better known as the state’s Voter ID law, which requires eligible voters to show photo identification to poll workers when they go to cast votes during an election.

The plaintiffs claim that the measure disproportionately affects certain segments of the voting public, namely the poor, minorities and elderly state residents, individuals who tend to vote for Democrats.

Those voters, the challengers say, can have difficulty getting to a facility that provides state-issued identification cards.

Proponents of the Republican-backed measure contend that the law was simply designed to cut down on instances of voter fraud.

Late last year, Simpson, of the Commonwealth Court, one of two Pennsylvania intermediate appellate benches, issued an injunction preventing the law from taking effect during the November 2012 presidential election.

Simpson later extended that injunction to this past spring’s primary election.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Court for the past two weeks has been hearing a challenge to the merits of the law during a trial in Harrisburg.

The comments by Hickok, an outside lawyer representing the commonwealth in its defense of the law, came during her closing arguments Thursday, according to the Legal Intelligencer.

The paper quoted Hickok as saying that because Simpson’s earlier injunction was done as a “soft roll-out,” the defense would consider extending that injunction through November’s election to give the appellate judges additional time by which to mull over the merits of the case.

The paper also quoted Jennifer Clarke, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which is also representing the plaintiffs, as saying that her team was surprised to hear Hickok’s comments in court.

“We still have to work that out with the court, as to exactly what the scope of the injunction will be,” Clarke told a reporter following Thursday’s court proceeding.

According to an accounting of the trial posted to the Law Center’s website – the group has been offering daily updates on the case since the trial commenced two weeks ago – the state filed a motion to dismiss the case on July 31, soon after both sides rested.

In the motion, the defense claimed, in part, that plaintiffs such as the Homeless Advocacy Project and the NAACP no longer have standing to bring suit.

Plaintiffs also include named individuals from various parts of the state who contend they would be negatively affected by the law should it take effect.

Clarke, who serves as the Law Center’s executive director, called the commonwealth’s motion to dismiss “perfunctory” and expected, according to group’s website.

Earlier in the day on Wednesday, according to the Law Center’s accounting, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley closed off the courtroom to the public at the request of the state over concerns that testimony by Bryan Niederberger, a plaintiffs’ witness, would include confidential information on individual voters.

Lawyers representing the commonwealth have been arguing that it has alleviated concerns about the Voter ID law by making identification cards free and obtainable without needing additional documentation such as a birth certificate, while plaintiffs’ attorneys have argued that it can still be difficult for some voters, such as the elderly, to make it to a Pennsylvania Department of Transportation facility in order to apply for, and pick up, their ID cards.

There are some counties in Pennsylvania where PennDOT centers are many miles away from a voter’s place of residence. Some centers also have very limited operating hours.

In more rural areas where public transportation is virtually non-existent, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have argued, it can be hard for poor and elderly residents to get out to get their IDs.

It is not yet clear when Commonwealth Court would rule in the case.

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