Just hours after a similar decision in Oregon yesterday, Pennsylvania now becomes the 19th state where the Constitutionally conservative value of equal protection for all under the law becomes the law of the land again.
District Court Judge John E. Jones, a George W. Bush appointee, described the state's ban on marriage quality as "an injustice" and wrote in his rather moving decision today, featuring section headers that mirror the classic wedding vows, that "all couples deserve equal dignity in the realm of civil marriage."
"In future generations the label same-sex marriage will be abandoned, to be replaced simply by marriage," he concluded. "We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history."
* * *
UPDATE 5/21/2014: As he did after the court's recent rejection of PA's polling place Photo ID restriction law, Corbett has now announced he will not appeal the trouncing his side of the argument received in court yesterday. Let the weddings, and equality, begin...
Since that landmark ruling in the Badger State, new signs from top elected Republican officials in Pennsylvania and Iowa, and even in Wisconsin, suggest that the (at least) decade-long GOP "voter fraud" fraud may have finally peaked, and will now begin the inevitably long slide into abandoned, historical shame.
We don't want to be too quick to declare the demise of this insidious attempt at reviving Jim Crow with a sophisticated and nefariously misleading legal patina, but after covering this beat for a decade --- long before much of the general public, much less the Democratic Party itself, seemed to notice --- it seems that the recent landmark court ruling in WI, followed by last week's towel toss in Pennsylvania and embarrassing revelations in Iowa, may be seen in the not-too-distant future as the moment that the GOP "voter fraud" fraud finally began to permanently unravel...
Sure, Pennsylvania's Republican Governor Tom Corbett may be the dumbest in the nation, but the competition for that title is certainly fierce and tough to quantify.
Who can forget his advice to women of the state back in 2012 that they should just lie back and "close your eyes" while being forced by his government to receive a vaginal ultrasound while the monitor must be pointed towards them before terminating a pregnancy? That was fun.
Then there was his claim that same year, described as "ludicrous" to The BRAD BLOG by a longtime Keystone State election integrity expert, that the GOP polling place Photo ID restriction bill he signed into law was needed, in no small part, because some precincts in the state "come in with a 112 percent" turnout. Of course, that was completely untrue, but, hey, it sounded like actual information! That voter restriction law, as we reported recently, was permanently enjoined by a state court earlier this month after it was found to be in violation of the commonwealth's constitutional right to vote. The law, according to the court, would also have disenfranchised "hundreds of thousands" of legal voters in the bargain.
But how could Corbett have known that? After all, when Corbett's own appointed Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele (another great mind and, coincidentally, the wife of Corbett's own Chief of Staff), was asked about it in court during the legal challenge to the law, she admitted, "I don't know what the law says." Hey, if the state's chief election official doesn't know how many thousands or millions of otherwise legal voters will be disenfranchised by a law, how should the Governor be expected to know any better?!
But the news is not all bad for Gov. Genius, as a new poll out this week in advance of his exciting re-election bid this year details!...
A Pennsylvania Photo ID law that one Republican lawmaker once boasted would deliver the Keystone State to Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential Election was struck down by a Pennsylvania trial court.
Judge Bernard L. McGinley of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that several sections of Act 18, the Republican-sponsored polling place Photo ID statute that was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett (R) in March of 2012, violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. The court, which previously prevented the law from taking effect by the issuance of a preliminary injunction, ordered that Act 18's in-person Photo ID requirement be permanently enjoined.
That ruling does not come as a surprise.
In May of 2012, The BRAD BLOG predicted that the plaintiffs in Applewhite vs Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would likely establish that Act 18's polling place Photo ID restrictions violate of that state's constitution. The lawsuit --- named after its 93-year old lead plaintiff Vivian Applewhite, who had voted for 50 years without a problem until 2012 --- alleged that the Act's Photo ID restrictions would deny or significantly impair the right to vote. That right, according to the Keystone State's constitution, is considered "fundamental."
Under judicially recognized Equal Protection standards, a law that impairs or abridges a "fundamental right" cannot survive a constitutional challenge unless the law is narrowly tailored to serve a "compelling state interest." That interest, we observed in our original article, cannot be found in what amounts to the "phantom menace" of in-person voter impersonation --- a point PA Republicans later conceded via a formal, in-court stipulation, entered near the outset of the case, in which they acknowledged they were "not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in-person voter fraud elsewhere."
While he included additional reasons for issuing the permanent injunction, Judge McGinley's lengthy decision [PDF] reveals that our original assessment of the case, and our prediction about its likely outcome, were spot on...
Hurricane Sandy hit Pennsylvania just as the state's voters faced deadlines for acquiring and submitting absentee ballots, a situation that could affect thousands of votes in the close presidential election.
Gov. Corbett [R] announced Monday night that he was extending the deadline for voters to request absentee ballots - originally 5 p.m. Tuesday - by up to two days, depending on how many days county offices were forced to close because of the storm.
That will give registered voters in Philadelphia, where offices were to be closed Monday and Tuesday, until Thursday at 5 p.m. to show up in person at county election offices, fill out an absentee ballot request, mark the ballot, and vote on the spot. The new deadline would be Wednesday for government offices closed only one day.
... It will be too late to use that extended deadline to send an absentee ballot through the mail, because Corbett said he was not extending the Friday deadline for completed absentee ballots to arrive at county election offices.
Any use of the mail could be problematic because the storm has curtailed mail service in Philadelphia and the suburbs. Further cutbacks are likely throughout the state, depending on the course of the storm the remainder of the week.
The article was called to our attention on Twitter by MN's Sec. of State Mark Ritchie who asks: "Maybe other states will follow" in extending their absentee deadlines? But, again, please note that extended deadline only works for those showing up in person to cast their absentee ballot.
And then the Inquirer article also adds this troubling tidbit...
Today, in a courtroom in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held a hearing to determine whether Republican Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson was correct in his verdict [PDF] last month when he stunned plaintiffs by upholding the state GOP's polling place Photo ID restriction and refusing the ACLU/Advancement Project's motion for a temporary injunction before this November's Presidential Election.
The plaintiffs had originally predicted a "slam dunk" victory in the lower court case, given the remarkably poor presentation offered by the Commonwealth, and the myriad of evidence presented in their favor, showing that some 1.6 million otherwise eligible voters could be disenfranchised this November, in addition to the state's own admission before the trial began that the Commonwealth was unaware of any "investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania" and that no "in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law."
While the state Supreme Court currently consists of three Democrats and three Republicans (the fourth Republican judge on the bench is currently suspended, pending a corruption investigation), a split verdict would mean the lower court's decision to allow the GOP's restriction on voting would stand.
But there were hints today that at least one Republican judge may be skeptical about the state's claims that nobody need be disenfranchised by the GOP-enacted law which would take effect, for the first time, in the November Presidential election, just 54 days from now...
Pennsylvania has refused to turn over documents that the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) had sought in order to determine whether the state's new polling place Photo ID restriction law is in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and other federal laws.
As previously reported by The BRAD BLOG, on July 23, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez submitted a four-page letter [PDF] to Carol Aichele, the Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (coincidentally, the wife of Gov. Tom Corbett's Chief of Staff), requesting information in electronic format for 16 broad categories of documents that the DoJ felt were needed to evaluate whether the Keystone State's Photo ID law complied with federal laws barring discriminatory election laws.
In an Aug. 17 letter [PDF], the Commonwealth's General Counsel, James D. Schultz, responded to Perez, by telling him that PA would not comply with what Schultz described as an "unprecedented attempt to compel [PA], a state not within the purview Section 5 of the VRA, to present information concerning compliance with Section 2 of the VRA."
Section 5 of the VRA requires some 16 different jurisdictions in the U.S., with a history of racial discrimination, to get pre-clearance for new election-related laws. Pennsylvania is not one of those jurisdictions. However, all 50 states are barred from instituting discriminatory laws under Section 2 of the act.
Schultz accused the DoJ of targeting "a growing number of states…simply because they instituted legislation designed to insure the integrity of the voting process"...
A state court has upheld the state constitutionality of the new Republican-enacted polling place Photo ID restriction law in Pennsylvania which critics say may imperil the votes of more than a million legally registered voters in the Keystone State this November.
In his 70-page ruling [PDF] issued today, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson acknowledged that the plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and other civil rights organizations, "did an excellent job of 'putting a face' to those burdened by the voter ID requirement," but failed to demonstrate "facial unconstitutionality". The judge did not rule on the merits of the case, but on whether or not it could be enjoined by the court.
That, despite the fact that:
The Pennsylvania state Constitution guarantees that "Every citizen 21 years of age [lowered to 18 years of age by the twenty-sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution]...shall be entitled to vote at all elections," subject to certain restrictions by the General Assembly as to who may register to vote.
Independent studies have determined that some 1.6 million otherwise eligible voters in PA, including nearly a million in Democratic-leaning Philadelphia alone, may lack an unexpired state-issued driver's license by this November's Presidential election, which is just 83 days away.
The state admitted, before the trial even began, that they were unaware of any "investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania"; that they "are not aware of any incidents of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and do not have direct personal knowledge of in person voter fraud elsewhere"; and that the state would offer no evidence at the trial "that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law."
During the trial, as described by plaintiffs, "[S]tate officials admitted they underestimated the number of registered voters without acceptable photo ID, admitted the law will disenfranchise voters, admitted the law will hold different voters to different standards, admitted voters casting an absentee ballot will be able to vote without ID."
We're still reviewing the opinion of Judge Simpson, who is a Republican, and will have a more detailed analysis of the specifics of his ruling in the coming days.
Plaintiffs have already vowed to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court, where four votes will be needed to overturn the Commonwealth Court's ruling. Currently, there is a 3-3 Republican/Democratic split on the high court, as the 7th jurist, a Republican, has stepped aside for the moment pending a corruption investigation. If the state Supreme Court splits on the verdict, Simpson's ruling would hold. Though, depending on how the state Supremes decide, and if federal rulings are a part of whatever decision they may make, it is possible the plaintiffs could later take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the event that the state Supreme Court fails to overturn the lower court's verdict.
UPDATE 8/18/12: On Aug. 16 plaintiffs filed a formal notice of appeal. Once the opening brief is available, The BRAD BLOG will furnish a detailed analysis of that appeal in the context of the rationale applied by Simpson, along with an assessment of the alternative litigation which the U.S. Department of Justice could potentially file in U.S. District Court.
UPDATE 9/4/12: The plaintiffs have now filed their appeal to the PA Supreme Court. Our legal analyst Ernest Canning details their appeal and some of the absurdities they point out in the original ruling by the Commonwealth Court judge right here...
Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Carole Aichele, testifying Tuesday during a state trial on the state’s controversial voter ID law, said she wasn’t sure about the details of the law, but stood by her unsupported claim that 99 percent of voters had valid identification.
“I don’t know what the law says,” Aichele said under questioning, according to CBS.
Aichele also couldn’t provide any evidence that 99 percent of voters already have a valid form of ID, as the state has claimed. CBS reported that when lawyers cited testimony from a Department of State official calling the number likely inaccurate, Aichele responded "I disagree."
Wow. Aichele is a Republican. Her husband is Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's chief of staff. Corbett was recently forced to admit that he had no clue what type of ID was now required to vote under the new law he recently signed.
Not since Arizona's Jan Brewer was promoted by Barack Obama from Sec. of State to Governor, has a state had such a clueless dope as their top election official, apparently. And here I thought the previous Secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro Cortes, a Democrat, was a disaster back in 2008. I guess the bar is getting pretty low for state election officials in PA!...
Good news for fans of democracy and voting rights, and for foes of discrimination! Bad news for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, his GOP state legislature, and perhaps others like them in different states.
The U.S. Dept. of Justice may soon be filing a legal challenge to Pennsylvania's new GOP-enacted polling place Photo ID restriction. The law will affect the ability of some 750,000 legal voters to cast their once-legal vote in the Keystone State this November, unless it is overturned. If the feds choose to bring suit against the new law, it would be the first time the federal agency has used the anti-discrimination provisions of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 to block such a law.
Last February, as a civil rights group had filed a federal challenge against the state of Wisconsin, charging that state's new GOP-enacted polling place Photo ID restriction violated the federal constitution, we explained how the moment presented a "golden opportunity" for the U.S. Dept. of Justice to join the case and challenge it, as well as similar laws in other states, under Section 2 of the VRA.
As Ernie Canning detailed at the time, the DoJ has, to date, only challenged recently-enacted polling place Photo ID restriction laws in jurisdictions which are covered by Section 5 of the VRA. That section of the landmark federal law requires that new election laws in some 16 states, or parts of states with long histories of racial discrimination at the polls, receive federal government preclearance for the new laws before they may be enforced. Section 5 places the burden on the jurisdictions themselves to demonstrate that the new laws will not have a discriminatory effect.
Since these particular laws have been shown, indeed, to be designed to discriminate against largely Democratic-leaning voters, the states where the laws have been denied preclearance by the DoJ --- states like Texas and South Carolina, for instance --- have been unable to demonstrate their laws did not have the effect of discriminating against legal minority voters. In both of those cases, using data supplied to the DoJ by the states, it was simple to show the discriminatory effect of the new laws. (For example, in South Carolina, African-American voters were found to be 20% more likely to lack the type of ID needed to vote under the new law than white voters. In Texas, the state's own data showed that legal Hispanic voters were as much as 120% more likely to lack the requisite ID to vote under the new law than non-Hispanic voters.)
But similar laws passed in states not covered by Section 5 --- states like Wisconsin, Tennessee, Kansas, and Pennsylvania --- have yet to face the same kind of legal scrutiny from the federal government --- until now...
Last week, The BRAD BLOG's legal analyst Ernest Canning reported on the lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and the ACLU in Pennsylvania, together with the Homeless Advocacy Project and the Advancement Project, against the state Republicans' new polling place Photo ID restriction passed into law in March.
The law, unless it's blocked, is set to make it much harder, if not impossible for many previously-legal student, elderly, minority and urban dwelling voters to cast their vote this November.
Canning predicts, however, that, like a similar GOP law in Wisconsin this year, and one in Missouri back in 2006, the new attempt to remove voting rights will be found in violation of the fundamental right to vote guaranteed under Pennsylvania's state Constitution. We'll see if he's correct.
In the meantime, the lawsuit, Applewhite vs Commonwealth of Pennsylvania [PDF] names 11 plaintiffs, the majority of whom have tried to get a birth certificate in order to then obtain their so-called "free" ID to vote from the state under the new law --- only to be told there is no record of their births. Several of those plaintiffs, not surprisingly, were born in the Jim Crow south and are now facing the forces of disenfranchisement again under the GOP law this year even up in the Keystone State in 2012.
Last week, MSNBC's Al Sharpton interviewed the lead plaintiff in the complaint, 92-year old Viviette Applewhite who marched for civil rights alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Georgia, and who has been voting in Presidential elections without a problem for more than 50 years. She has never had a driver's license and, though she says she paid a fee for a birth certificate from the state, she has never received it.
Despite the fact that state officials have been unable to produce evidence of in-person, polling place impersonation --- the only type of voter fraud that could possibly be deterred by polling place Photo ID laws --- Republicans seem more than happy to disenfranchise long-time voters like Applewhite and potentially tens of thousands of others this year.
Applewhite says she believes it's all little more than an effort to stop President Obama from being re-elected, and she fears there are far more people than many realize who will be disenfranchised this year unless the law is overturned.
"Looks like most of the people in my building, they're senior citizens, but they don't have the proper thing to vote with," she says near the end of the interview, "and it's going to be a whole lotta people that's not going to be able to vote"...
Judith Browne Dianis, civil rights litigator at the Advancement Project also appears in the interview above and correctly notes: "This is not about preventing fraud, it's about preventing voting."
She is supported in that contention, ironically enough, by PA's Republican Governor Tom Corbett, seen in a clip above exhorting his supporters to help him keep turnout below 50% during his recent election. Moreever, just after Corbett signed the GOP's voter suppression bill in March, he lied to the media by claiming that it was needed since Pennsylvanians had seen 112% voter turnout in some precincts. Longtime election watchdog Marybeth Kuznick of VotePA, however, told us the Governor's claim was "ludicrous."
For more on the plaintiffs in the PA complaint who are facing disenfranchisement for the first time in their lives --- folks like 59-year old Wilola Shinholster Lee, 72-year old Grover Freeland, 86-year old Dorothy Barksdale and 93-year old Bea Booker --- and why Ernie Canning predicts the new legal challenge will be successful in the Keystone State, see his report from last week right here.
92-year old Viviette Applewhite, 59-year old Wilola Shinholster Lee, 72-year old Grover Freeland, 86-year old Dorothy Barksdale and 93-year old Bea Booker are just a few of the Pennsylvania residents and long-time legal voters now fighting to retain their right to vote under the state GOP's new polling place Photo ID restrictions, according to a new lawsuit filed this week in the Keystone State.
The complaint goes on to argue that "there are countless other Pennsylvanians like them [some 80-90,000 according to the state's own data], who will lose the most cherished of all rights, the right to vote, unless the Photo ID Law is declared unconstitutional."
There is now, indeed, a very good chance that the law will, in fact, be declared unconstitutional according to The BRAD BLOG's analysis of the complaint, the state constitution and prior rulings in similar cases.
PA is just the latest of more than a dozen states over the past year where Republican-controlled legislatures and executive mansions have instituted voter disenfranchising polling place Photo ID restrictions. Governor Tom Corbett signed his state's bill into law in March, and promptly lied about his reasons for supporting the removal of voting rights for those lacking Photo ID on Election Day, claiming, without evidence, that some precincts in the state had 112% voter turnout in recent elections. As we reported at the time, that charge was dismissed as "ludicrous" and without evidence by a longtime state election integrity expert.
Nonetheless, "Act 18" has become the law of the land in Pennsylvania, for now, and, unless successfully challenged, will require that voters present a state-issued Photo ID when voting at the polling place in this year's November Presidential election for the very first time.
For the identical reasons that The BRAD BLOG accurately predicted that the League of Women Voters' legal challenge to a polling place Photo ID restriction law under similar provisions of the Wisconsin's Constitution would prevail (absent a political intervention from the Badger State's extraordinarily partisan Supreme Court), we also predict that new legal challenge filed this week in PA, attempting to block the state's draconian polling place Photo ID law, will similarly succeed...
[NOTE: I interviewed 90-year old Joyce Block from Pennsylvania, the woman discussed in the story below, today (Wed, 4/25) on my KPFK/Pacific Radio show, and she offered a bit of a "good news" update on her story. That interview is now posted here. - BF]
And now it's the voters in Pennsylvania who are beginning to lose their right to vote under new Republican voter suppression laws. The latest story of a citizen having their rights robbed by Big Government GOP disenfranchisement laws is that of Joyce Block, a 90-year old grandmother from Doylestown who has voted for 70 years without a problem --- until now.
We've been reporting for some time on legal voters who are being disenfranchised by Republican-passed polling place Photo ID restrictions around the country. For example, in Indiana there were the 80- and 90-year old nuns who were turned away from the polls in 2008 after that state's first-in-the-nation Photo ID restriction had taken away the rights they'd freely and legally exercised for decades at their own monastery. (They were turned away that year by the poll worker, their fellow sister, who had been forced to follow the new voter suppression law.)
Of course, that same law in the Hoosier State didn't prevent their top election official, charged with overseeing the law, Republican Sec. of State Charlie White, from committing three voter fraud felonies himself. He was found guilty in February of this year and forced to leave office. But these laws aren't actually meant to stop voter fraud. Even proponents of such laws are unable to cite any cases of polling place impersonation --- the only type of voter fraud that could possible be deterred by such laws --- which might have been prevented in their state by polling place Photo ID restrictions. These laws are meant solely to disenfranchise perfectly legal, usually Democratic-leaning voters who disproportionately lack the type of ID now needed to vote in states where these laws have been approved.
We told you about 87-year old Ruthelle Frank, an elected town official in Wisconsin who would have to come up with more than $200 for her "free" ID to vote under the GOP's new law there. And then there was 77-year old Bettye Jones for whom it would be strictly impossible to vote at all under WI's law which was, thankfully, recently found to be in violation of the state Constitution by two separate judges in two separate lawsuits in the Badger State.
Down in Tennessee, we told you about 96-year old Dorothy Cooper who was denied a "free" Photo ID, as now needed to vote there, even though she had her birth certificate to prove she was who she said she was. And we also highlighted 93-year old Thelma Mitchell, who used to clean the Governor's office in the statehouse, but was told that her ID was no longer good enough to cast a vote in the Volunteer State.
We could, of course, go on and on and on with such examples, even as we could detail the many high-profile Republicans who have committed voter fraud --- folks like Mitt Romney and Ann Coulter and many others, to name just a few --- who would not have been prevented from committing their crimes even under Photo ID restrictions, because that's not how voter fraud generally occurs and not the sort of voters these laws are meant to disenfranchise. It is, however, a swell way to keep hundreds of thousands, even millions, of perfectly legal --- largely elderly, minority and student (read: Democratic leaning) --- voters from being able to cast their legal vote.
And now, in Pennsylvania, the most recent state where Republicans have approved a polling place Photo ID restriction law --- and where the state's Republican Governor Tom Corbett blatantly lied about it to the media --- we see the 90-year old grandmother-in-law of a local Borough Council president who looks as if she'll be forced to break her perfect 70-year voting record this November, as she too is unable to receive the supposedly "free" ID soon required to vote in the Keystone State...
Fresh off of telling women they should just "close your eyes" when they are forced by the state to have the government come between them and their doctor for a mandated ultrasound before being allowed to terminate a pregnancy, Pennsylvania's Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is now just making stuff up concerning "voter fraud" in his state.
Comments highlighted by Steve Benen at Maddow Blog today suggest the Governor is willing to say just about anything to justify the disenfranchising polling place Photo ID restrictions just passed and signed into law by Republicans in the Keystone State...
Asked to explain the need for such a measure, Corbett offered a curious explanation (thanks to reader K.M. for the tip):
When some of the precincts come in with a 112 percent reporting you have to scratch your head and say how does that happen?" questioned Governor Corbett.
At a certain level, that may seem persuasive. If there were precincts in the Keystone State that had 112% participation, then Republicans would have a pretty strong case for new measures intended to crack down on abuses.
But here's the trouble: there are no examples of Pennsylvania precincts, at [any] time or in [any] election, coming in with 112% participation. Corbett appears to have simply made this up.
We thought we'd double check on that with Marybeth Kuznick, founder of VotePA, the non-partisan election integrity watchdog organization which has been fighting to improve the state's electoral system --- and help stop election fraud --- for years now.
She concurs that Corbett's statement is, as she described it to us, simply "ludicrous"...