Commonwealth Court judge denies state’s motion for reconsideration in ruling striking down Voter ID law

By Jon Campisi | Apr 30, 2014

The state judge who overturned Pennsylvania’s controversial Voter ID law

as unconstitutional has denied a bid by commonwealth lawyers to revisit his decision.

Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard McGinley this week denied the state’s post-trial motion for reconsideration in the case of Applewhite v. Commonwealth, which challenged the statute mandating voters show photo identification when casting election ballots.

The state filed its motion for reconsideration in January, the same month in which McGinley released a 103-page decision striking down the measure, known as Act 18.

The law, passed in the spring of 2012, was considered to be one of the strictest voter identification laws in the country.

It was challenged by lawyers representing certain segments of the population, such as minorities and senior citizens, who asserted it would have been overly burdensome.

Under the law, only specific forms of photo ID would be accepted at the polls, meaning those lacking the proper cards would have had to travel to one of only 71 state Department of Transportation facilities in order to obtain the identification.

Concern was raised over the elderly and disabled in particular, who maintained they would have had trouble getting to the PennDOT facilities.

Pennsylvania is said to have the second largest rural population behind the State of Texas.

Those who opposed the measure, namely Democrats, said the law was passed in haste, and that it was really designed as a way to disenfranchise the electorate.

Supporters, mostly Republicans, stressed the law was designed to tamp down on voter fraud.

Earlier this year, McGinley, the Commonwealth Court judge who was handed the case, ruled that Act 18 didn’t comport with “liberal access and unreasonably burdens the right to vote.”

McGinely, a Democrat, technically only struck down certain portions of Act 18 – he let stand, for example, a section dealing with absentee voting – but the photo ID requirement was seen as the centerpiece of the legislation.

Before McGinely’s decision, another Commonwealth Court judge, Robert Simpson, had issued an injunction preventing the law from being enforced until the merits of the case could be decided.

The injunction meant voters didn’t have to show identification during the November 2012 presidential election and the April 2013 primary.

In his January decision, McGinley wrote that, “The right to vote, fundamental in Pennsylvania, is irreplaceable, necessitating its protection before any deprivation occurs. Deprivation of the franchise is neither compensable nor reparable by after-the-fact legal remedies, necessitating injunctive and declaratory relief.”

In his decision this week, McGinley reiterated his belief that the Voter ID law unfairly discriminates against certain segments of the voting population.

“In this controversy, the challenged statute omits a means of providing liberal access to compliant photo ID, as is necessary to survive constitutional attack,” McGinley wrote. “Its patent infirmities do not survive strict scrutiny.

“Here, the evidence showed the photo ID provisions at issue deprives numerous electors of their fundamental right to vote, so vital to our democracy,” he continued. “This justifies the Determination.”

Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, hailed McGinley’s decision, saying that the court “confirmed that the Voter ID law is unnecessary and disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of people.

“We call on the Governor, the Attorney General and the Secretary of State to stop spending our precious state dollars on defending this law, which is so dangerous to our democratic system,” she stated.

The commonwealth still has the option of appealing to the state Supreme Court.

It was not immediately clear if and when that decision would be made.

Joshua Maus, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Office of General Counsel, did not return a phone message Tuesday.

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