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July 23, 2014, 1:49 pm

Pa. judge announces voter ID ruling date

If appealed, state’s Supreme Court will make final decision

 

In a move sure to re-ignite the controversy surrounding the state’s voter ID law, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson has set a date for the case against the law.

The trial will be held at 10 a.m. on July 15 in courtroom 3001 at the judicial center in Harrisburg.

Simpson, the same judge who has twice made rulings on the law — once ordering it upheld, and once delaying its implementation — issued his scheduling order Tuesday. He will preside over the trial, which is expected to last about a week.

The ACLU immediately announced that it intended to file a motion to extend the preliminary injunction, which delayed implementation of the law last fall, until after the trial.

“We will file a motion for preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the law for the [May 21] primary,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of the Philadelphia ACLU.

Anticipating the ACLU’s move, Simpson, in his order, set a Feb. 8 deadline for filing motions to extend. The state was given until Feb. 13 to file its response. Simpson expected to rule on an extension by March 21.

It is a situation that could create some voter confusion in May, Walczak said, adding that the ACLU’s primary concern was delaying the law until after a trial.

“If they don’t have to show ID, that’s the optimum,” he said. “Is some confusion going to occur? I think it’s inevitable. But, our focus is preventing enforcement of the law, which we think is going to lead to widespread disenfranchisement.”

Any decision made in July is likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Walczak said he expected an appeal no matter which side wins, and that ultimately the case will go before the state Supreme Court, which will settle the matter once and for all. Because the current case deals only with state law, appeals cannot go above the state Supreme Court.

“The only claims we’ve made in this case are under the state constitution,” he said. “So, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has the final word.”

In October, after a court battle that reached the state’s highest court, Simpson, at the Supreme Court’s command to review his previous ruling, ordered that the law be delayed until after the presidential election.

Simpson’s charge from the state Supreme Court was not to rule on the constitutionality of the law, but to delay it if he found that it disenfranchised voters. At the time, he noted that only five weeks remained until Election Day, Simpson said that was not enough to time for all votes to get ID even as the number of IDs issued has continue to increase.

If it stands, the law will be among the nation’s toughest.

A number of states pushed through voter ID laws over the last two years — 16 states require photo identification — a total of 34 require some form of ID.

Pennsylvania’s law was passed in March by the Republican legislature and signed soon after by Gov. Tom Corbett. It required voters to have a state-approved photo ID to cast their ballots. Critics charged that the law was an attempt by the Republican-dominated state government to oust President Barack Obama in November.

Estimates about how many voters it would disenfranchise varied greatly. Most projections suggested it would have a disproportionate impact on Black voters. Numbers compiled by the Tribune suggested that 39 percent of Black and Latino active voters — as many as 152,000 and 37,000 people respectively — in Philadelphia could be disenfranchised by the law. That compared to 20 percent of white voters.

 

Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .