In the days since Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court struck down the
controversial Voter ID law, it remains unclear whether the state would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
What is clear, however, is that Attorney General Kathleen Kane would not be the one filing an appeal to the high court, if the defendants in the case decided to go that route.
Kane clarified in a recent press statement that if the case were appealed, it would be lawyers for Gov. Tom Corbett and Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele who would be submitting the legal filings, not Kane’s office.
Last week, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley, a Democrat, struck down as unconstitutional the Republican-backed measure requiring all eligible voters to show photo identification upon casting votes at the polls.
While the bill was passed in early 2012, and signed by Corbett, a Republican, that spring, it was never officially enforced.
It was, however, heavily advertised by the state through television and billboard ads.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson subsequently issued a preliminary injunction barring the statute from being enforced while the merits of the case were worked out; he extended the injunction to cover both the November 2012 presidential election and the April 2013 primaries.
McGinley, the judge who issued last week’s ruling, extended the preliminary injunction to cover the November 2013 municipal elections.
Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and other civil rights firms had sued on behalf of voters who alleged they would be disenfranchised if the law were to be implemented.
The plaintiffs argued the law would disproportionately affect certain segments of the voting public, such as the elderly and minorities, who tend to vote Democratic.
They and other Democrats contended the law was designed as a back-door way of trampling voting rights.
Republicans who supported the measure say it was designed to stamp out voter fraud and protect the integrity of the electoral process.
In his ruling, McGinley determined that the law was “invalid and unconstitutional on its face.”
The judge determined the statute doesn’t comport with “liberal access and unreasonably burdens the right to vote.”
Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law was considered to be the strictest of its kind in the country, since only specific, state-issued identification cards would be acceptable for voting purposes.
In her recent statement, Kane, the attorney general, clarified that any decision to appeal McGinley’s ruling rests solely with Gov. Corbett and Secretary of the Commonwealth Aichele.
She noted that a decision to appeal must be made on or before Jan. 27.
Kane stated that her office has served as co-counsel to Corbett and Aichele since litigation commenced in 2012.
The governor and the secretary are also being represented by outside counsel, lawyers with the firm Drinker Biddle.
When she came into office in January 2013, Kane stated, she reviewed the status of the case, and while she expressed concern that it might not be implementable, she determined that her office’s role as counsel should continue.
In a statement released by the governor’s office, James D. Schultz, Corbett’s general counsel, said that his team would continue to evaluate McGinley’s opinion, and would “shortly determine whether post-trial motions are appropriate.”
Meanwhile, statements continue to pour in in reaction to McGinley’s ruling.
State Sen. Tim Solobay, a Democrat from western Pennsylvania, said the ruling wasn’t a surprise to anyone who followed the trial.
“The administration failed to convince Judge McGinley that the law is necessary because it couldn’t provide an example of what it is intended to prevent while being faced with conflicting statistics about the number of voters who lack proper ID,” Solobay said in a statement. “Reasonable and thoughtful attempts to ensure the security and accuracy of the electoral process deserve our attention and our support. The Voter ID law, as written, doesn’t get it done, despite millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on its implementation.”
The senator also said he believes the law is unlikely to survive an appeal.
Fellow lawmaker Frank Dermody, the House Democratic leader from Allegheny County, put out his own statement in which he decried the law’s passage in the first place, saying the right to vote is enshrined in the state constitution, and that “the governor and his Republican leadership attempted to make it much harder for people to exercise this right.
“This is a victory for common sense, and it’s a stinging defeat for the far-right agenda that’s being coordinated across the country by shadowy groups pouring millions of dollars into state politics,” Dermody stated. “From the beginning the voter ID effort was a political effort to ‘fix’ a problem that was never shown to exist in the real world.”
In his statement, which was provided by the House Democratic Caucus, Dermody pointed to the slip by House Majority Leader Mike Turzai that was caught on a recording in which Turzai stated that the Voter ID law was going to help then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney win Pennsylvania’s electoral votes.
“Two years ago, the Republican majority and the governor jammed through an unconstitutional law in order to satisfy a right-wing political agenda,” Dermody stated. “Not one Democrat voted for it and we are overjoyed that the state court has put a stop to it.”
Republicans thus far have not been so quick to react to McGinley’s ruling, which permanently enjoins the commonwealth from rolling out the measure.
In his opinion, McGinley wrote that Voter ID laws are designed to ensure a free and fair election, and that Pennsylvania’s law “does not further this goal.”