Pennsylvania Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Voter ID Law

Civil rights leaders are cautiously optimistic that the court will strike down the voter law changes enacted by a Republican-controlled legislature.

Posted: 09/14/2012 04:51 PM EDT
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Voter ID Law

Democrats and civil rights groups said they were encouraged by the direction of the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court hearings over the issue of the state’s voter ID law.

Chief Deputy Attorney General John G. Kerr III indicated that the state’s Department of Transportation might well have trouble processing the new ID documents for thousands of people before the November election.

Justices questioned the state’s lawyer on why they feel compelled to make the changes in voting requirements before the next election.

“What’s the rush?” one justice asked, questioning whether it might be better to delay the implementation of the new standards until the 2014 elections.

Two months ago, during a hearing in Pennsylvania state court, political science experts testified that 1 million registered voters, or about 12.7 percent of the state’s registered voters, lacked valid identification to cast ballots under the new law.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP have complained that the new law would effectively disenfranchise a large number of voters who are African-American, Latino, elderly or in school.

“The right to vote is the country’s proudest boast,” said David Gersch, an attorney representing opponents of the voter ID laws, speaking to the justices.

Gersch told the six justices – half appointed by Democrats and half by Republicans -- that the Pennsylvania constitution, unlike that of the United States, carries specific language that protects the right to vote that no legislature can infringe. 

To underscore that point, civil rights and advocacy groups have pointed to a statement by Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai that highlighted the partisan nature of the changes. Speaking to a gathering of the Republican State Committee, Turzai listed the accomplishments of the Republican-controlled legislature in Pennsylvania, saying the voter laws would help defeat President Obama.

"Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done," Turzai said, "First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."

A decision on the voter ID law is expected early next week.

 

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(Photo: AP Photo/Michael Perez)

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