Justices hear arguments on Pa. voter ID law

    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has heard arguments for and against the state’s controversial voter ID law.

    Questions from justices hearing one of the most bitterly partisan legal battles of the year were somewhat predictable.

    Democratic judges saved their aggressive questions Thursday for the commonwealth’s attorneys.One of them, John Knorr, argues the new photo identification requirement is no different than the existing ballot-box rule that a voter identify herself by signing a poll book.Democratic Justice Debra McCloskey Todd says the photo ID requirement represents a new burden.

     

    “Well, sure, but the burden, it seems to me, is quite minimal,” said Knorr.”It’s minimal if you already have a photo ID,” Todd replied.”It’s minimal even if you don’t, Justice Todd, because most people can get photo IDs quite easily,” he responded.

    Chief Justice Ron Castille, a Republican, did ask about a key question in this case — what kind of legal scrutiny should be used to judge the law.Challengers of voter ID argue the lower court judge who upheld it used a kind of scrutiny that’s too permissive, and based on previous case law that doesn’t apply here.The commonwealth argues the courts must defer to the Legislature, as state lawmakers have the authority to govern elections.

    But David Gersch, an attorney arguing on behalf of the law’s challengers, says the problem is that the law imposes too great a burden on a fundamental right.”The statute, on its face, for the first time requires that all voters, with certain exceptions, show photo ID as a condition of voting, but the act does not anywhere guarantee that if you are a qualified elector, you will be able to get the qualified ID necessary to vote,” he said.

    Challengers of voter ID say the state must be able to guarantee no one will be disenfranchised due to the new photo ID requirement.

    Justice Michael Eakin. a Republican, says that’s an impossible test.If the court’s three Republicans and three Democrats vote along party lines, the lower court’s ruling will stand.

    The hearing was broadcast by PCN.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.