PA. Appellate Court Permanently Enjoins Voter ID Law - Civil Rights Law - U.S. Third Circuit
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PA. Appellate Court Permanently Enjoins Voter ID Law

In a case we've been watching, last week Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court -- an intermediary appellate court -- issued a long-awaited decision on the viability of Pennsylvania's voter ID law. In his opinion and order, Judge Bernard L. McGinley invalidated, and permanently enjoined, a Pennsylvania law requiring voter photo identification.

Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law

The Pennsylvania Voter ID law in question, HB 934, added a photo identification requirement to Pennsylvania's Election Code. The amendment was passed, without one single Democratic vote, purportedly to prevent voter fraud, though The Atlantic noted that a Pennsylvania Republican stated that the law "is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."

The Commonwealth Court's Opinion

The Commonwealth Court's opinion came after a much-involved appellate process that included remands and temporary injunctions. Amidst this tumultuous procedural background, Judge McGinley had to determine (1) whether Pennsylvania's voter ID law comported with "liberal access" requirements compelled by the Pennsylvania statute, and clarified by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; and (2) whether the voter ID law unduly burdened the right to vote and (3) violated petitioners' rights of equal protection under the law.

Judge McGinley found that the voter ID law "fails to satisfy liberal access" requirements. On the constitutional challenges, the court noted that voting is a fundamental right, and applying strict scrutiny, found the state lacked a compelling interest and can "not defend a statute that has the effect of disenfranchising those who lack compliant ID." Furthermore, the court found that the "burdens and inconveniences are not narrowly tailored to a state interest."

However, it should be noted that under Crawford v. Marion County Election Bd., Judge McGinley found that the equal protection claim failed, because "the distinction between voters who lack compliant photo ID and those who have it commands only rational basis review." Nonetheless, the court rendered the voter ID law invalid based on the first two claims, and permanently enjoined their implementation.

Ramifications

While the ruling is lauded by advocacy groups as "a monumental victory for those who believe that in a democracy, elections should be free, fair and accessible to all people," Pennsylvania is only one of many states with similar laws, reports Bloomberg. State officials are reviewing the decision, according to Bloomberg, and it is likely the case will get appealed to the state's highest court.

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