News

Arnold & Porter Wins State Voting Rights Case, Pa Voter ID Law Struck Down

January 17, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 17, 2014 -- Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley today permanently enjoined Pennsylvania's controversial photo identification law because it violated the state's constitution by threatening to disenfranchise "hundreds of thousands" of voters. The long-awaited decision comes after a series of closely-watched legal actions in both the state's trial and appellate courts brought by a pro bono legal team, which included attorneys from Arnold & Porter LLP, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Advancement Project.

"Today was a good day to be a Pennsylvania voter," said Arnold & Porter's Michael A. Rubin, the lead trial attorney in the case. "In striking down this law, the court recognized that constitutional rights, especially the most fundamental right to vote, protect us from the government and cannot be taken away on the whim of that government."

Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which was enacted in March of 2012, did not allow many commonly used identification cards for voting. According to the court's findings, most voters would have been forced to travel to one of only 71 Pennsylvania Department of Transportation locations to obtain state-issued identification, while the state law especially burdened the elderly, those with limited mobility and disabilities, individuals with fewer resources and the homeless. "The statute as implemented, imperfectly and inaccurately, does not assure the franchise, it de facto denies it," Judge McGinley concluded.

The court's decision comes after more than 18 months, three trials and a preliminary injunction which prevented the law from going into effect. The successful legal team had argued that the state's expensive and confusing education campaigns have caused extensive confusion for voters over the last year and a half, while, in 2012 the commonwealth stipulated that it had no evidence of even a single case of voter fraud in Pennsylvania.

While limited to protecting the rights of Pennsylvania voters, the court's decision may have national implications, Mr. Rubin noted, in that it shows how impactful such voter identification laws can be on individuals who are least able to comply with them and reinforces the principle that a primary role of government is to help, not hinder, the exercise of this fundamental right of citizenship.

The commonwealth may appeal Judge McGinley's ruling.

Besides Mr. Rubin, Arnold & Porter's legal team included David Gersch (who successfully argued the case earlier before the state's appellate court), Dorian Hurley, Dana Peterson, Stanton Jones, Rosie Szanyi, Rachel Frankel, and Whitney Moore. The case is Applewhite v. Pennsylvania, 330 M.D. 2012 (Pa. Comm. Crt). The order can be viewed in full here: www.pilcop.org.

Email Disclaimer