Voter ID: Applewhite v. Commonwealth


Supreme Court Send Voter ID Case Back to Commonwealth Court

Today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a ruling in the Voter ID case. In its decision, it held that voting is a fundamental right and confirmed that if the law impedes eligible, registered voters from casting their vote, it is unconstitutional.

The Court also confirmed that the law – as it is written – stands to disenfranchise eligible voters because the PennDOT ID that the law claims will be made available to everyone can, in fact, only be obtained by those with a birth certificate, social security card, and two proofs of residency. However, the Court has chosen to send the case back to the Commonwealth Court, asking the lower court to assess whether the Department Of State (DOS) card will meet this need and actually be provided to the tens of thousands of people who need it before November. At the time of the trial in Commonwealth Court, the DOS ID was not yet available; however, based on the testimony of state officials, Judge Simpson predicted that with the new ID and the Commonwealth’s outreach efforts, everyone would be able to obtain the ID they need to comply with the law. In a 4-2 opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that they “are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials,” and has ordered the lower court to reassess its findings and issue a new opinion by October 2nd. The Supreme Court has ordered the lower court to issue a preliminary injunction if it is not guaranteed that the procedures for issuing the DOS cards meet the requirements of liberal access. Read the full decision.

Justice Todd and Justice McCaffery both dissented based on the irreparable harm that would be caused by voters being disenfranchised on election day, with Justice Todd writing that she has “heard enough of the Commonwealth’s scramble to meet the law’s requirements … Seven weeks before an election, the voters are entitled to know the rules.” Those justices said that we don’t need more information; the law should be enjoined now.