Compared to 2008, voting rights lawyers appear to have the edge in court.
By Steven Rosenfeld
August 2, 2012
When the dust settles after the November election and all sides in 2012’s voting wars look back, a lawsuit now before a Pennsylvania court over that state’s harsh new voter ID law may be a key turning point in a season where civil rights advocates and the Justice Department turned back the GOP’s latest voter suppression efforts.
The case brought by a coalition of voting rights groups—led by the American Civil Liberties Association’s Pennsylvania chapter—is doing several things in court that were not done four years ago, when liberal civil rights groups failed to stop Indiana’s new voter ID law before the U.S. Supreme Court.
First, the ACLU-PA put into evidence testimony from real people about real-life circumstances attesting to the hardship of meeting the new ID law—which wasn’t done before the Supreme Court in Indiana, where that court found no-one had been harmed because that law had not yet taken effect. In the Harrisburg court, the judge heard a handful of elderly people, newly eligible voters who are disabled and registered voters without drivers’ licenses, say why they could not obtain the newly required IDs. They lacked a mix of original documents, transportation to get it, time to get reissued birth certificates, and funds to get paperwork that is a precursor to a state photo ID card.
Moreover, the testimony by Pennsylvania state officials defending their new voter ID law has been like a scene from an existential novel about kangaroo courts under Communism. Before the trial started, the state’s attorneys agreed in a stipulation that nobody had been found in the state to be impersonating other voters—the GOP’s political ‘justification’ when adopting the new ID law. They also said in that stipulation that they did not have any “direct personal knowledge” of voter fraud elsewhere. (That was followed by video-taped statements by Pennsylvania’s Senate Republican leader bragging the law would help Romney win).