A Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday ruled that a new voter identification law can go into effect after opponents charged it would unfairly target minorities, college students, the poor and the elderly.
The decision by Judge Robert E. Simpson paves the way for Pennsylvania to require voters to present photo identification before casting their ballots at the polls on Nov. 6.
In his 70-page opinion, Simpson said the petitioners — including the League of Women Voters and the NAACP — failed to establish that “disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable.”
Simpson said opponents “did an excellent job of `putting a face’ to those burdened by the voter ID requirement,” but said that wasn’t enough to grant an injunction against the law.
“At the end of the day, however, I do not have the luxury of deciding this issued based on my sympathy for the witnesses or my esteem for counsel,” Simpson said. “Rather, I must analyze the law, and apply it to evidence of facial unconstitutionality brought forth in the courtroom, tested by our adversarial system.”
Simpson also said more harm would come from blocking the law.
“This is because the process of implementation in general, and of public outreach and education in particular, is much harder to start, or restart, than it is to stop,” he said.
Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed the law in March after every Democratic lawmaker in the state voted against it. Opponents had asked the judge to delay it from going into effect until after the general election, the New York Times reported.
“We’re not done, it’s not over,” Witold J. Walczak, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who helped argue the case for the plaintiffs, told the Associated Press. “It’s why they make appeals courts.”
Viviette Applewhite, the 93-year-old Philadelphia lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement she “can’t believe” the ruling.
“Too many people have fought for the right to vote to have it taken away like this,” Applewhite said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “All I want is to be able to vote this November like I always have. This law is just ridiculous.”
Lawyers for the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, which argued in defense of the law, said the state will issue special photo ID cards to registered voters who are unable to get Pennsylvania Department of Transportation-issued IDs, and are also rolling out a public campaign to make sure voters are aware of the change.
Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the Houston-based election integrity group True the Vote, told TheBlaze they were celebrating the judge’s ruling but not necessarily surprised by it.
“It’s obviously good news but True the Vote wasn’t really surprised by the ruling, given that Indiana’s voter ID law was upheld by the Supreme Court a few years back,” Churchwell said.
Simpson cited the 2008 Supreme Court decision that upheld the Indiana law, where the justices said the state had a “valid interest” in protecting elections and improving procedures.
The issue of voter identification laws has been fraught with controversy and accusations of racial motivations, including last month when NAACP President Benjamin Jealous likened the fight against them to “Selma and Montgomery times,” referring to the historic civil rights battles of the 1960s. Attorney General Eric Holder similarly said of a Texas ID law: “We call those poll taxes.”
The Justice Department is currently investigating whether the Pennsylvania’s law is in sync with federal law, a process started before Simpson’s ruling.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.