By refusing to block Pennsylvania’s callous and draconian voter ID law, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert E. Simpson has left the door open to voter suppression tactics that haven’t been used since the 1960s, when white southerners were finally shamed into doing the right thing after a horrified America watched footage of the police dogs and fire hoses used to keep Blacks and other undesirables away from the polls.
Progressives immediately went on a public relations rampage, vowing to fight on through appeals and every available legal avenue until some jurist with a conscience and sense of right and wrong nips this thing in the bud.
I hope they win on appeal, and not just because those most adversely affected by the law are minorities — but because the law is anti-American, and flies in the face of the U.S. Constitution, the document held above all others by the hypocrites who authored the voter ID law in the first place.
What could be more anti-American, more constitutionally incorrect, than the notion that some citizens’ votes count more than others? That by keeping certain people away from the polls, you somehow end up with a free and fair election? It’s galling and ridiculous, and frankly I’m ashamed we have to have this fight almost 50 years after the Voting Rights Act.
Those facts notwithstanding, and despite my continued belief that President Obama will be re-elected in November by a sizable margin, I can’t help but wonder how much effect all this will have on the election in practical terms. Just read the newspapers. Voter ID laws, voter purges and similar machinations are taking place all over the country, not just here in Pennsylvania.
Is it possible that GOP House Majority Leader Mike Turzai was actually onto something when he guaranteed a partisan crowd in June that, “Voter ID will allow Gov. Romney to win the state in November”?
I’ve tried not to think about that, just as I’ve convinced myself that in the end, all this won’t matter when Obama stands on the podium in triumph on election night.
But what if the worst should happen?
What if the concerned organizations and valiant lawyers on the front lines of the voter ID battle lose their appeals, and the law is in full effect on Election Day? Worse, what if Turzai is right, and key swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Florida (coincidentally, those states specifically targeted by the GOP’s suppression strategists) fall into Romney’s hands?
And even worse than that, what if winning those key states is just enough to put Plastic Man over the top, and we’re faced with four years of watching people who own dressage horses and offshore accounts snatch food from the mouths of babies and senior citizens?
I know. Too horrible to contemplate, but in the name of pragmatism, we should at least consider the possibility, however remote — and what we’d do about it. I don’t have a doomsday scenario strategy mapped out, but I’m pretty sure how I’d handle a Romney presidency. It is remarkably similar to how the Republicans have handled President Obama these past three years.
First, taking my cues from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the knuckle-draggers, I’d never, ever call him President Romney. Just Romney, or better yet, just Willard.
Second, I would never miss an opportunity to bring up the racist past of the Mormon Church. I’d quote Mormon founders and leaders who taught until 1978 that my Black skin is a curse, and I am therefore unworthy of the blessings of God, or entrance to white heaven. (If you think this is a nasty, unfair swipe at the man’s religious beliefs, you should take up your appeal with my complaint officer, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.)
Third, I would spend a great deal of time and effort writing catchy sayings for bumper stickers and T-shirts. Mitt and Ryan – Always Lyin’, Need Healthcare? Just Die Already, and Utah is for Haters spring immediately to mind. Think I’m being unfair again? Check out the anti-Obama signs and bumper stickers at a tea party rally, then get back to me.
Finally, I would use this column to berate, harass and ridicule the Romney administration at every turn — rewriting history to suit my own purposes, and making up “facts” as I go along. I would do this every single week, without regard to relevance or context. There are too many examples to list here, but check out Ann Coulter or Cal Thomas if you have an objection.
If the other shoe indeed drops, I hope it’s a size 14. I know just where to put it.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
As opponents of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law, or Act 18, await a final decision by Judge Robert Simpson, the results of a recent study regarding the expected impact of the law were announced this week.
During a teleconference on the validity of the law, Keith W. Reeves, director of the Center for Social and Policy Studies at Swarthmore College, said that original state estimates were wrong. Reeves said the research shows that as many as 400,000 eligible voters would be turned away from the polls in November because they lack proper identification.
“We surveyed 227 actual voters who participated in the last primary election,” Reeves said. “Of that number, 49 percent were African-American, 18 percent Latino and the rest a mix of other ethnicities. We wanted to know if the voter ID law was being implemented fairly and evenly. What we found were half of the voters surveyed were asked to show a valid photo ID. Fifty-nine percent had a driver’s license, 13 percent had some form of military ID and 3 percent had employee photo identification. There were 4 percent of those who turned out that had no photo ID at all. That 4 percent translates into 400,000 eligible voters who would be barred from voting. The survey also showed that the 4 percent who had no photo ID were non-white — none of the white respondents were affected. Clearly that shows there is some racial disparity here, and we have a lot of work left to do in order to educate voters.”
Democratic State Sens. Anthony Hardy Williams, Vincent Hughes and NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous were also on hand for the teleconference and offered their insights into how the Voter ID law would disenfranchise thousands of voters. Jealous said that voter suppression was always the intent behind the legislation, and Williams referred to it as one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation.
“What the Reeves Report clearly demonstrates is what we’ve been saying all along, that if voter ID goes forth as is on Nov. 6 — just six weeks away — otherwise qualified voters will lose their rights,” Williams said. “These are the facts. They cannot be denied. They cannot be ignored. So no matter what the administration says, let me be clear: Act 18 is unconstitutional. It cannot be fully implemented in time to prevent voter disenfranchisement this November.”
According to Reeves, his research team conducted exit polls at 13 separate wards in Philadelphia during the April 24 primary elections. The team also polled voters in Allegheny and Butler counties and the August 7 special elections, taking random surveys. The surveys determined that enforcement of the law was arbitrary and 4 percent of those voters — all people of color — possessed no forms of valid photo identification at all.
Jealous said voter suppression, particularly of African Americans and other minorities — segments of the population most inclined to vote for Barack Obama in November — was always the intention.
“The 4 percent number suggests those who would be affected by this is much larger than the state suggested,” Jealous said. “This says to me that senior citizens, many of whom fought against the Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, would be significantly affected — and after so long now they’re going to see that repeat itself. This report shows that was the intent of the law, Senator Mike Turzai said that was the intent and if not for the courts this will be successful.”
In June, Republican State Sen. Mike Turzai stated during a party function that the state’s Voter ID law would help presidential candidate Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania. In August, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson, also a Republican, upheld the law. Simpson stated in his decision that opponents who were asking for an injunction that would halt its implementation didn’t adequately demonstrate that voters would be adversely affected.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, which challenged the law, appealed to the State Supreme Court, who, in a ruling on Sept. 18, kicked the decision back to Simpson. Ruling 4 to 2, the justices ordered Simpson to consider whether or not all eligible voters will be able to obtain acceptable ID if the law is upheld. The high court asked Simpson to submit a supplemental opinion on the availability of alternate IDs by Oct. 2nd.
“This is empirical evidence of what Turzai stated, and what we and my colleagues have been saying all along. This is all about assisting Romney through voter suppression,” said Hughes. “This is real evidence of what the actual intent was, and shows that the state is nowhere near ready to implement this failed law, which is what it is. Even if all the data was in place, when we escort people to PennDot centers to get their state photo ID’s, they get mixed and conflicting information about what they need. There are significant problems here. At best this law needs to be thrown out, and at worst, its implantation should be halted.”
Last week’s ruling by Pa. Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, which approved the legality of a voting rights robbing law, passed by Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state legislature earlier this year, sets another discriminatory standard for 21st-century America.
However, Judge Simpson’s ruling isn’t a singular example of a jurist providing legality to a political party’s illegal/prejudicial effort to achieve an electoral advantage.
Simpson’s ruling simply continues a little known legacy of some Pennsylvania judges disrespecting the voting rights of Blacks in Pennsylvania — the state that hosted the birth of American democracy.
In 1837, Pennsylvania, a predominately white political party got a white judge in Bucks County to invalidate a local election it lost, ruling it was illegal for Blacks to vote despite existing state law stating otherwise.
A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling further robbing voting rights from Free Blacks in Pennsylvania followed that 1837 Bucks County ruling.
And, those twin judicial rulings — based more on social custom than law — provided validation for Pennsylvania’s 1838 state constitution explicitly limiting voting rights to ‘white’ men only.
“This voter ID law is a part of a concerted and continuous voter suppression effort against Blacks that started in the 1830s,” renowned expert on Pennsylvania’s Black history Charles Blockson said during an interview last week.
Blockson is an author and founder of the internationally lauded Charles L. Blockson African-American Collection at Temple University, one of the most unique collections of its kind.
Pennsylvania, rightfully perceived as an anti-slavery state during the racially contentious pre-Civil War era, experienced numerous racist assaults and insults against its free Black population — discriminatory deprivations that many argue persist today, albeit in less blatant forms than in bygone eras.
“We forget our history,” Blockson stressed.
“A lawyer from my hometown of Norristown, John Sterigere, inserted that white-male-only clause into Pennsylvania’s 1838 constitution,” Blockson said noting how last week’s court ruling and that 1838 constitutional convention “both took place in Harrisburg” the state capital.
Lawyer Sterigere and Judge Simpson both employed similar rationales to support their positions.
Sterigere swayed 1838 constitutional convention delegates with his argument that restricting voting to white-males-only was consistent with identical restrictions in other states, irrespective of the racism explicit in those restrictions.
Simpson justified his upholding of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law by citing court rulings in other states that upheld similar measures requiring government issued identification to vote, irrespective of the democracy-destroying wrongness of such laws.
The rulings of Judge Simpson, 1830s Bucks County Judge John Fox and 1830s Pa. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Bannister Gibson all employed application of a duplicitous ‘law-doesn’t-mean-what-it-says’ illogic.
Although Pennsylvania’s constitution, operative before 1838, granted voting rights to all tax-paying ‘Freemen’ over age 21 with two years of Pennsylvania residency, both Fox and Gibson ruled against eligible Black voters contending that free Blacks were not Freemen for electoral purposes.
Gibson, seizing Fox’s reasoning, proclaimed their ancestors settled Pennsylvania “as a community of white men” and since an “unconquerable prejudice” existed against all Blacks (slave and Free) the word freeman in Pennsylvania’s Constitution was “not potent enough to admit a free negro to suffrage … ”
Those 1837 judicial rulings plus that 1838 constitutional convention left Pennsylvania’s free Black population in the perverse posture of taxation-without-representation, the deprivation that spurred America’s War of Independence from England.
Pennsylvania’s current constitution states elections “shall be free and equal” barring the imposition of “additional qualifications on the right to vote.”
Judge Simpson did acknowledge “the inconvenience” created by the ID law especially for the elderly, the infirm, the homeless and persons unable to access the state’s offices issuing proper ID cards.
But Simpson asserted that inconvenience “does not qualify as substantially burdensome” for the majority of registered Pennsylvania voters.
Thus, according to Simpson, the state’s constitutional mandate for fair elections free of additional qualifications doesn’t really mean what it says.
The law also creates ID hurdles for eligible voters released from prison, an impediment not referenced in Simpson’s ruling.
Judge Simpson disingenuously brushed off a damning declaration made in June 2012 by the Pa. House Majority Leader who proudly confessed during a Republican Party meeting that the true intention behind the voter ID law was to help the GOP’s presidential candidate win Pennsylvania.
House Leader Mike Turzai, when listing 2012 GOP legislative accomplishments like corporate tax cuts during that June meeting, said, “Voter ID — which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win Pennsylvania — done!”
While Judge Simpson termed Turzai’s “tendentious statements” disturbing, Simpson speciously declined to “infer” that other Republican Pa. legislators “shared the boastful views” of Turzai — refusing to invalidate the law for its now acknowledged rights robbing intent.
Simpson’s ruling ignored obvious context that Turzai made his boast during a Republican Party meeting attended by some fellow GOP legislators.
Further, other Pennsylvania GOP legislators do share Turzai’s support for the law as evidenced by the law’s originator Republican Daryl Metcalfe and 49 other GOP legislators filing an amicus brief in Simpson’s court backing the law.
“We know the reason for this law,” Charles Blockson said. “We have a Black president!”
One week before Judge Simpson’s ruling claiming the controversial voter ID law was “nondiscriminatory,” critics of that law released a disturbing study documenting that law’s discriminatory impact in Philadelphia.
A conclusion of that study stated “African-American and Latino communities are disproportionately affected by the voter ID law …”
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship program.
Despite detailed evidence to the contrary, including evidence from the Pennsylvania Department of State that voter fraud in the Commonwealth is virtually non-existent, a Republican judge has refused to grant an injunction against implanting the state’s voter identification law.
The decision by Judge Robert Simpson, which was announced early Wednesday, ignited a storm of furious comments from opponents of the law, which they say could prevent hundreds of thousands of registered voters from participating in the November presidential elections. The controversial law, which was rushed through the state Senate and the House of Representatives, has also drawn the attention of the United States Department of Justice.
“We are outraged and extremely disappointed over Judge Simpson’s decision,” said Philadelphia NAACP President J. Whyatt Mondesire. “His decision is nothing more than a reflection of the partisan nature of the political system in Pennsylvania. Judge Simpson basically just denied the entire complaint.”
In Judge Simpson’s decision he wrote that he was not convinced that the petitioners, which included the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, the Pennsylvania State Conference and others, did not offer proof that voter disenfranchisement would be immediate and that other forms of redress, such as absentee ballots would be sufficient.
“On the contrary, the more credible evidence on this issue was that offered through the Commonwealth witnesses,” Simpson wrote. “I was convinced that efforts by the Department of State, the Department of Health, PennDot and other Commonwealth agencies and interested groups will fully educate the public. Moreover, considering the believable testimony about the pending Department of State photo IDs for voting and the enhanced availability of birth confirmation through the Department of Health for those born in Pennsylvania, I am not convinced any qualified elector need be disenfranchised by Act 18.”
Simpson added that the availability of absentee and provisional ballots and judicial relief for those with special hardships would be sufficient. Mondesire said the voter identification law was implemented to serve only one purpose.
“Regardless of today’s decision, we remain committed to working with supporters and volunteers across the state to register and educate Pennsylvanians about the Voter ID law,” said Jennifer Austin, Pennsylvania Press Secretary for Obama for America. “We want to ensure all eligible voters have the information they need to get to the polls in November and exercise their right to vote. Since the passage of the law our campaign has included information on the new provisions in volunteer trainings, information resources, online, and in voter registration and education activities and we will continue to do so. Now more than ever it is important that the Commonwealth follow through on its plan to make available free IDs to any voter who may need them. Regardless of party affiliation, we support ensuring any voter eligible to cast a ballot has the right to do so.”
As the deadline for voters to register for the Nov. 6 presidential election approaches, Democrats outnumber Republicans in Pennsylvania. Despite massive voter education drives as advocacy groups rushed to help voters register and get a state ID many assumed would be needed to cast their ballot, the number of people registered to vote has fallen.
Tuesday Oct. 9 is the last day potential voters can register to participate in the upcoming election.
According to state Department of State statistics, there are 8.4 million registered voters across the state, as of Oct. 1. Philadelphia boasts more than any other county with more than 1 million voters from both parties hailing from the city.
Statewide, there are 4.2 million Democrats, 3.1 million Republicans, 589,000 independents and 485,000 in all other parties. In Philadelphia, those numbers are: roughly 821,000 Democrats, 130,000 Republicans, 79,000 independents and 22,000 others.
Though those figures will change slightly as state officials add the last eight days of registration figures to their data, registration for all parties appears far lower than in 2008.
In 2008, there were 8.8 million registered voters statewide — 4.5 million Democrats, 3.2 million Republicans and 1 million others. Those respective figures for Philadelphia were 1.1 million total, 880,000 Democrats, 147,000 Republicans and 99,000 others.
While overall the overall number of registered voters has declined, state statistics show that since the last presidential election, about 15,000 Philadelphians have changed their registration to join the Democratic Party. About 8,759 Republicans in Philadelphia have switched their party allegiance to the Democratic Party, along with 7,334 independents who joined the city’s dominant political party. By comparison, more than 10,000 Philadelphia voters have defected from the Democratic Party. According to the department, 10,024 Democrats have become Republican, along with 1,637 independents, who have also joined the GOP.
Those figures run counter to the statewide trend which showed more people switched to the Republican party than choose to become Democrats.
For the same period, 157,291 people switched registration to become Republicans — 114,549 Democrats made the change. As did 42,742 from other parties. For the Democratic Party, 68,916 Republicans decided to leave the GOP as did 46,453 from other parties.
In this year’s general election, poll workers across the state are required to ask voters to show photo identification, but voters will be allowed to cast ballots even if they do not have it after a ruling last week by Commonwealth Court.
A law requiring voters to have specific types of photo ID and requiring voters without acceptable IDs to cast provisional ballots, was enacted by Republicans who control the Legislature earlier this year without a single “yes” vote from any Democratic lawmaker.
But, Judge Robert Simpson halted parts of the law on grounds that some voters could be disenfranchised because the state had not done enough to make it possible for all voters to easily get IDs before the election.
Under a separate law that remains in effect, people voting in a polling place for the first time are required to show identification. Photo IDs, such as a Pennsylvania driver’s license are acceptable but not required. Voters can satisfy the requirement with nonphoto forms of identification, including a paycheck, a bank statement or a firearm permit.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Voting rights advocates are hailing this week’s decision by the state Supreme Court, which threw a suit challenging the new voter ID law back to a lower court for further review, as a positive development in their effort to delay the law’s implementation.
“It’s a positive step toward ensuring access to the ballot box for the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians still faced with the prospect of potential disenfranchisement,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “With limited time left until Election Day, a limited number of PennDOT locations and hours, and approximately 800,000 qualified and registered voters without approved ID, this law cannot stand.”
The NAACP was one of several advocacy groups, which also included the ACLU and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, that challenged the law in court.
In August they asked the Commonwealth Court to issue an injunction delaying implementation of the law until after the Nov. 6 presidential election. On Aug. 15, Judge Robert Simpson rejected their request. They appealed to the state Supreme Court, which heard arguments last week.
On Tuesday, the court’s six sitting justices, in a 4-2 decision, remanded the case back to Commonwealth Court, ordering it to issue an injunction if it finds that the new law will prevent voters from voting on Nov. 6. If the lower court finds that there is no voter disenfranchisement, then the law will stand.
Judge Simpson has until Oct. 2 to issue a ruling.
Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, Justice J. Michael Eakin and Justice Thomas G. Saylor, the court’s three Republicans, were joined by Democrat Max Baer in the majority opinion.
“We … return the matter to the Commonwealth Court to make a present assessment of the actual availability of the alternate identification cards on a developed record in light of the experience since the time the cards became available,” the majority justices wrote.
Two Democrats, Debra McCloskey Todd and Seamus McCaffery, issued dissenting opinions, blasting their colleagues for the decision.
“In my view, the time for prediction is over. Forty-nine days before a Presidential Election, the question no longer is whether the Commonwealth can constitutionally implement this law but whether it has,” Todd wrote in her dissent. “The majority … allows the Commonwealth to virtually ignore the election clock and once again try to defend its inexplicable need to rush this law into application. Seven weeks before the election voters deserve to know the rules.”
The key words in the majority opinion were “no voter disenfranchisement,” said David Gersch, the attorney who argued for voting rights advocates last week before the court, adding that he was pleased the justice set a high standard for the review by Commonwealth Court. “That is a very tough standard to meet. The Commonwealth is going to have a lot to show.”
Overall, Gersch was pleased, he said.
“It’s certainly a very positive step in the right direction, in that the court recognizes that the state does not make adequate provision for people to get the ID that they would need to vote,” he said.
Estimates of how many voters might be disenfranchised vary widely, but earlier this year state officials estimated that 186,830 Philadelphians lacked the identification need to cast a ballot. Across the state that number ballooned to 758,000 registered voters.
In rejecting the application for an injunction, Simpson acknowledged that about 1 percent of voters, or about 89,000 people, could be disenfranchised by the law.
Criticism of the law often breaks down according to party affiliation. Democrats argue it is intended to disenfranchise young, old, poor and minority voters. Republicans contend that is needed to prevent voter fraud.
The law was passed by a Republican-dominated legislature and quickly signed in March by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
Focusing on the fact that in the majority opinion, the justices said they believed the administration was working in “good faith” to make sure as many voters as possible had the necessary identification, Corbett said he too was pleased with the decision.
“I am pleased that the state Supreme Court recognized that we have been working hard, and in good faith, to implement the voter ID law,” he said in a statement to reporters. “My administration will continue to work hard to ensure that Pennsylvania voters know about this new law, and help them obtain the proper identification to vote on Election Day.”
While saying he too was pleased with the ruling, which he hailed as “tentative victory,” the head of the state chapter of the NAACP, J. Whyatt Mondesire, urged voters to continue their efforts to get the state-required identity card.
“The NAACP and other leading organizations will continue to provide resources to those in need of the potential voter photo ID ahead of Election Day,” he said.
It was a busy, newsworthy year, as 2012 presented a series of local stories that either put Philadelphia in the local spotlight or burnished the city’s reputation and stereotypes. From the fierce presidential campaign that transformed Philadelphia into a major operations base for Obama’s reelection, to the scandals that has enveloped the city’s police and traffic court department, there was no lack of compelling issues. Here’s a look at nine of 2012’s top stories:
When former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed the controversial Voter ID law last March, the governor couldn’t have foreseen the epic battle that would ensue, pitting proponents – mostly Republican politicians and their supporters, versus numerous grassroots organizations that viewed the new law as a GOP-orchestrated plot to subvert and suppress the vote – against one another in a series of tense lawsuits and counterclaims. Last October, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson ruled the Voter ID law would not be enacted before the 2012 presidential election, in which President Barack Obama easily won re-election over challenger Mitt Romney.
Dr. William Hite Jr. arrives
The School District of Philadelphia searched for a superintendent ever since the embarrassing 2011 departure of former leader Dr. Arlene Ackerman. In comes Dr. Hite, who served as Superintendent of the Prince Georges County Public Schools system before taking the helm here. Hite becomes the first African-American male superintendent in the school district’s history, and is immediately confronted by a slew of pressing issues, none greater than defending and explaining to irate parents the validity of his proposal to close 37 public schools and convert the grades of several others as the district continues to look for way to balance its budget. Hite recently released those findings in the “Live, Learn and Teach in Philadelphia” proposal.
The idea to close dozens of public schools developed long before Hite’s arrival, however. The suggestions were first mentioned in the findings and suggestions included in the analysis by Boston Consulting Group of the district’s finances and operations. District Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen also alluded to those findings in district documents, including the Facilities Master Plan, the Five Year Blueprint for Transforming Public Schools, the Proposed Five-Year Fiscal Plan and FY 2012-2013 Budget. Originally, more than 40 schools were scheduled for closure.
Jay-Z’s ‘Made in America’ event
Rapper-turned-mogul/professional sports team owner Jay-Z continued his infatuation with Philadelphia when he was announced curator of the massive “Made in America” event in September. As curator, Jay-Z booked himself, along with Kanye West, Pearl Jam, Run DMC, Odd Future and Drake, Pusha T, Big Sean and Philly rappers Freeway, Chris and Neef and many other acts for the two-day bonanza, held on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Mayor Michael Nutter joined Jay-Z in making the announcement, and along with the international attention, the city earned an estimated $500,000 for hosting the event.
Philadelphia cops arrested
Many now former Philadelphia police officers found themselves on the other side of the law, as 2012 witnessed the high-profile arrests of former officers, including the May 3 arrest of 37-year-old Anthony D. Dattilo for several charges, including indecent assault, aggravated indecent assault with a minor and illegal contact with a minor for allegedly having sex with a teenager in a Bensalem-area motel.
In March, former cop Aisha Pleasant was arrested by the Atlantic County, NJ Police Department for resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a policeman, and in May, Bridgette Paris, a 14-year department veteran, was arrested on several theft charges; interestingly, another former officer, Deborah Gore, was also arrested in May for stealing from Kohl’s.
In June, 23-year-old former officer Jonathan Garcia was arrested for allegedly selling heroin to an undercover agent while still in uniform.
In August, 42-year-old former officer John Hoesle for operating a multi-million dollar cable theft ring, while Keith Corley was arrested during the same month for rape, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, sexual assault, indecent assault, indecent exposure and official oppression.
Andre Daniels, a 15-year veteran of the department, was arrested in September for illegally obtaining painkillers.
One of the more sensational arrests was that of 19-year veteran Lt. Jonathan Josey, who is shown on tape sucker-punching a woman during the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Philadelphia Traffic Court scandals
The traffic court system suffered numerous black eyes in 2012 and became a symbol of East Coast graft when in September Assistant US attorney Paul Gray arrested Traffic Court Judge Robert Mulgrew, his wife Elizabeth, and Pennsylvania legislative aide Lorraine Dispaldo for a scheme that involved bilking money from Department of Community and Economic Development.
Traffic Court Judge Christine Solomon made national headlines in November when she confessed to knowing – and participating – in a long-running ticket-fixing scandal, going as far to admit to fixing tickets for at least two decades from her perch as democratic ward leader.
Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary was removed from his chair last month for allegedly showing lewd pictures to a female court clerk; Singletary initially announced his resignation in March.
Philly murder rate
That six murders were committed on the first day of 2012 should have served to portend the bloodshed to come. Although the city’s murder/homicide count reached 329 as of Dec. 28 — which actually represents a 16 percent year-over-year drop from 2011 — the epidemic of young black men shooting and killing each other continues to manifest itself in the city’s most depressed neighborhoods, as data provided by the Philadelphia Police Department shows that minorities were responsible 66 percent of the homicides during a three-month sampling completed earlier this year.
New City Council members
A new generation of city council members was sworn in last year, including freshmen Kenyatta Johnson, Mark Squilla, Bobby Henon, Cindy Bass and David Oh – who became the first Asian-American elected to political office in Philadelphia.
New Attorney General Kathleen Kane
Tough-on-crime Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane shocked political watchers when she not only defeated former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in last November’s general election, but when she then went on to soundly beat republican challenger David J. Freed. Harris became the first woman to be elected Attorney General of Pennsylvania – and also became the first Democrat to win that office since it became an electable position in 1980.
Voters do not need photo ID to vote Tuesday – it was the only message voter advocates wanted to publicize this week as the first phase of the court battle against the state’s controversial new voter ID law ended.
“You do not need photo ID to vote,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of the Philadelphia chapter of the ACLU. “That is the vitally important message.”
It was a phrase he repeated several times during a brief interview as he discussed his reaction to a judge’s decision, made Thursday, not to issue an injunction stopping the ads and mailers that some have called misleading.
“We’re fully expecting disinformation campaigns,” he said. “Don’t believe any of that stuff.”
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s decision not to force the state to stop running ads Walczak called misleading was not a surprise.
Simpson in his ruling said that voter advocates had not made a clear enough case that the state’s voter education campaign – a series of TV and radio spots along with mailers and print ads – would lead to disenfranchised voters.
“I need not resolve this dispute … because petitioners never offered credible evidence that the [state’s] education program is likely to cause disenfranchisement,” wrote Simpson.
That means that the state Department of State will not have to change the information it has already distributed or correct any more before Tuesday’s election.
An official with the state Department of State said to the best of his knowledge the message on billboards and in other ads has been updated. Voters will be asked for ID on Election Day, but those that cannot provide it will still be allowed to cast their ballots.
“The information that’s up currently, from what we’re aware of, is the new information,” said spokesman Matthew Keeler.
The ACLU and a number of other voting rights advocates, on Oct. 19, sued the state, in an effort to force it to change its ad campaign because many of the advertisements include lines like one aired recently on the radio: “If you want to have a voice…then show it, show it, show it.”
State law does not require voters to show ID on Nov. 6.
“The state has done everything in its power to not make clear that on this Election Day you don’t have to have photo ID to vote,” said Walczak. “They have clouded that message as best they could.”
In their suit, voter advocates asked the court to stop the state’s campaign and make state officials rework the ads to emphasize the point that no photo ID was needed.
“Rather than creating ads that clearly state this information, the Commonwealth instead chose to continue with its “Show It” campaign and merely add the phrase “if you have it” in small print to note that ID would not be required,” said ACLU officials when they filed the suit. “These minimal changes to the “Show It” campaign are not enough to combat previous efforts by the Commonwealth to publicize the law, including multiple press releases, press conferences, and a postcard mailing in September to all registered voters.”
A number of other groups are working to make sure that voters get the message. The Committee of Seventy was sending out email blasts. Council members and officials with the City Commissioner’s office were also working to make sure Philadelphia voters know that they don’t need photo ID. As was the Urban League of Philadelphia and others.
Simpson is the same judge who, on Oct. 2, halted implementation of the state’s voter ID law. He did so only after the state Supreme Court threw the case back in his lap. He originally refused to block the law.
One day after a Republican judge issued a ruling in support of the state’s controversial and hotly contested voter ID law, attorneys for the petitioners filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.
The law, which opponents said was rushed through the state Senate and the House of Representatives to the desk of Governor Tom Corbett to sign, requires voters to produce a valid state-issued identification card at the polls and was challenged in court. On Wednesday, Judge Robert Simpson issued a ruling stating that the petitioners didn’t present convincing proof that the law violated the state constitution or would cause undue hardship to the elderly, the poor and student voters in the upcoming November presidential elections. Simpson said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support issuing an injunction.
“Hundreds of thousands of voters could be effectively shut out of the election process under the guise of voter fraud,” said Democratic state Senator Vincent Hughes. “Without any evidence of this so-called fraud, this law is nothing more than another way to tip the odds in favor of the Republican presidential candidate this November. This is an extremely partisan law that Pennsylvania is ill-prepared to implement. It is my plan to continue to fight this voter suppression law, and assist the public with obtaining the necessary documentation to vote in November.”
Democratic legislators said the law tramples on the constitutional rights of voters and amounts to nothing more than a re-formulated poll tax or literacy test that was once used to discriminate against Black and other minority voters. Opponents say the law is nothing less than voter suppression.
“We should not make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote,” said state Senator Mike Stack. “The passage of the voter ID measure into law and subsequent court ruling are extremely disappointing because this law was crafted for partisan advantage, rather than voter protection. When laws are crafted for partisan political gain, we lose the public’s trust.”
House Bill 934, now Act 18, was passed on March 14, 2012. Republican lawmakers who backed the measure said it was to prevent voter fraud, but legal experts on the state and federal level could find no reports of voter fraud. Democratic lawmakers warned from the initial introduction of the measure, sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalf, R-Butler, that its purpose was voter suppression and its real purpose was to stack the odds in favor of Mitt Romney in November. Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed Act 18 into law once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the Commonwealth one of 16 Republican-controlled states to have such a law.
Votes by four justices would be needed to overturn Judge Simpson’s ruling. At present the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is split between three Republicans and three Democrats. Republican Justice Joan Orie Melvin was recently suspended following allegations of corruption.
“We’re going to need four of the six justices to vote in our favor if we’re to get an injunction,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU Pennsylvania. “Our legal posture was to block enforcement of the law to basically give all parties a chance to review its legality and merits. We’re still analyzing Judge Simpson’s decision. We filed a motion to expedite everything and while there may be an oral argument, we’re expecting a decision by September 10. If the justices rule in favor of the law, it’s going to be a sad day for democracy and we’ll see exactly what that means in November. Hundreds of thousands of people will be unable to vote and we’re not just talking about poor minorities; what about poor whites in rural counties? This law applies across the board.”
Commonwealth Court to rule on disenfranchisement issue
The legal challenge to the state’s voter ID law heads back to Commonwealth Court today where Judge Robert Simpson will again consider a request by voter advocates to delay implementation of the law.
“He’s going to be hearing testimony about whether the new Department of State ID, which became available on August 27 and has looser requirements than the PennDOT ID, is available to all voters, so in other words, that no voter will be disenfranchised,” said attorney Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director of the Committee of Seventy.
Two days — Tuesday and Thursday — have been set aside for testimony.
The Supreme Court ordered Simpson to render a decision by Oct. 2, just 35 days before the election. However, a decision by Simpson may not end the case. Either side can appeal.
If that happens, the case would bounce back up the legal ladder to the state Supreme Court.
Last week, the state Supreme Court threw the case back to Commonwealth Court, telling Simpson he must review the state law and determine whether it disenfranchises voters. If he finds that voters lack easy access to the ID, or any voters are disenfranchised, he must issue an injunction, delaying the law until after the Nov. 6 election.
It is the second time Simpson has considered the law. On Aug. 15, he rejected a plea for an injunction, triggering the Supreme Court case.
Kaplan noted that there have been some changes since then.
Perhaps the most significant is the creation of a state Department of State ID.
“He didn’t have any chance to evaluate the Department of State ID,” she said. “It didn’t go into effect until August 27, which was after the hearing. So, he didn’t take any testimony on the impact of the DOS ID in making it easier for voters.”
An attorney representing the voter advocates who filed the suit said the new hearing takes place with Simpson facing a much higher legal standard than he did the first time around.
The key words in the majority opinion were “no voter disenfranchisement,” said David Gersch, in a previous Tribune interview. “That is a very tough standard to meet. The Commonwealth is going to have a lot to show.”
Estimates of how many voters might be disenfranchised vary widely but earlier this year state officials estimated that 186,830 Philadelphians lacked the identification need to cast a ballot. Across the state that number ballooned to 758,000 registered voters.
In rejecting the application for an injunction, in August, Simpson acknowledged that about 1 percent of voters or about 89,000 people could be disenfranchised by the law.
Even by the lower standard, the number of state IDs lags behind estimates.
As of September 20, the state had issued 9,053 PennDOT IDs and 1,097 Department of State IDs. Of that total, 3,878 PennDOT and 642 DOS IDs had been issued in Philadelphia.