Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law Loses in Court

It’s getting a bit obscured in today’s Snowden-arama of news, but this is serious: Pennsylvania’s commonwealth court has found the photo requirement of the 2012 voter ID law “invalid and unconstitutional on its face.” So, a total victory for the plaintiffs, a collection of people who lacked proof of identity, defended by civil liberties groups. “The only fraud uncovered in this case is the ID law itself,” crowed Witold Walczak, legal director of the Pennsylvania ACLU, “which is exposed as a voter suppression tool adopted to game elections.”

I reported on this law during the election, when it was on trial. Parts of it survived through Election Day, and there were reports of voter confusion in Philadelphia as people were told of the law’s requirements but assured that they didn’t need an ID that day. Today’s judgment systematically pulls apart most of the state’s logic, ending with this:

Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal. Further, a substantial threat still exists to the franchise of hundreds of thousands of registered electors, and uncounted qualified electors, despite Respondents’ unfettered ability to continue, strengthen, and clarify voter education efforts and to provide compliant ID to the hundreds of thousands of electors who lack it. Petitioners establish a clear right to relief.

It’s not all bad for defenders of the law. Really, it isn’t—as Rick Hasen first spotted, the judgment excuses GOP leader Mike Turzai’s extremely ill-advised brag that the law would help win Pennsylvania for Romney. “The House Majority Leader’s unfortunate comments notwithstanding,” writes Judge Bernard McGinley, “there is no evidence that the purpose behind the Voter ID Law was to disenfrancise minorities or persons who, along party lines, may be more inclined to vote for Democratic candidates.” That undermines an argument that had been taken from Pennsylvania onto the airwaves of MSNBC, that’s not bad for the state as it looks to rescue the law at the next level, the state Supreme Court.