This morning, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson declined to issue an injunction that would halt implementation of Pennsylvania’s new and controversial voter ID law. The law requires Pennsylvania voters to show a photo ID in order to vote. According to Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turazi, the new law will deliver the Pennsylvania election to Mitt Romney.
But that doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional. Judge Simpson determined that an injunction would be inappropriate, and decided to give everybody a lesson on the difference between facial challenges versus “as applied” challenges to boot. He ruled that the plaintiffs, which included the ACLU, didn’t establish that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable.”
The ACLU says it plans to appeal….
You can read Judge Simpson’s full decision on the next page. The Washington Post frames the controversy surrounding this law:
The Republican-penned law — which passed over the objections of Democrats — has ignited a furious debate over voting rights as Pennsylvania is poised to play a key role in deciding the presidential contest in November. Opponents had asked Simpson to block the law from taking effect in this year’s election as part of a wider challenge to its constitutionality.
Republicans defend the law as necessary to protect the integrity of the election. But Democrats say the law will make it harder for the elderly, minorities, the poor and college students to vote, as part of a partisan scheme to help the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, beat Democratic Obama.
Well, any time you are talking about voter ID, you are talking about a partisan scheme. Democrats believe that allowing more people to vote will help them, while Republicans believe that restricting voter access will help them. ‘Twas always thus.
But the partisan effect of this latest scheme has little to do with whether the people of Pennsylvania can enact their law. From the decision:
But Simpson spends a lot of time explaining the difference between facial challenges versus “as applied” problems. In his view, the petitioners made a facial challenge to the law, but their arguments were more appropriate for an as applied challenge:
This was always the brilliance of the Republican push for these voter ID laws. They’ve been perfectly timed to get them through this election. By the time this issue is ripe for judicial review, the votes will already have been counted. If the GOP is right and this kind of suppression really does influence the outcome of the election, well, they’ll have their victory long before courts start unpacking which individuals were disenfranchised.
Pretty lucky that the threat of voter fraud only became a big GOP issue in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election, isn’t it?
Of course, the game isn’t over. Simpson says that the photo ID requirement has a “plainly legitimate sweep,” and I’d imagine that contention will be attacked on appeal, seeing as there is no evidence that voter fraud occurs at any significant level, or that a photo ID requirement would stop the de minimis fraud that allegedly takes place.
But Simpson’s ruling should be another good reminder to everybody who wants a second crack of political battles through the courts: it’s a lot easier to prevent a law from being passed than it is to get one overturned.