HARRISBURG — The legal battle over the state's voter identification law has taken a new turn with a group of eight Pennsylvania residents filing a motion to block a request by the plaintiffs to seek a speedy outcome.
The bipartisan group, led by State Rep. Thomas Killion (R., Chester), filed a petition in Commonwealth Court to intervene in support of the new law, saying its members' rights as registered voters would be violated if the law, designed to curb voter fraud, does not take effect in November.
"The petitioners in this case allege that they are challenging the Voter Identification Law to protect their fundamental right to vote. Intervenors seek to participate in this litigation to protect that same right," according to the petition.
"An individual's right of suffrage can be denied by a debasement or dilution weight of a citizen's vote just as effectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise."
The 64-page filing came a week after the ACLU, the NAACP, the League of Women Voters, and others filed suit on behalf 10 plaintiffs, among them three elderly women born in the Jim Crow South, who say they have been unable to obtain the necessary photo identification because there is no record of their births.
Calling the ACLU-led suit "overbroad and inappropriate," the petition filed Wednesday by the would-be intervenors gives a glimpse into possible arguments the state may make in defending the statute, which Gov. Corbett signed into law in March.
The petition said the photo ID requirement will have "no effect on the overwhelming majority of voters" and will at worst "inconvenience" a tiny subset of voters. The filing also says Pennsylvania courts should be guided by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a similar voter ID law in Indiana.
As if in answer to critics who contend there is little evidence of the type of voter "impersonation" fraud the new law addresses, the petition says the state "has a compelling interest in combating voter fraud regardless of whether it can demonstrate that such fraud has actually occurred in the state in the past."
Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, one of the groups suing the state, said plaintiffs' attorneys will file their own motion in reply Wednesday. "Our plaintiffs are an example of the way the law suppresses voting and harms the integrity of the process," she said. "All the intervenors will do is delay the case, which is what they said they want to do."
Attempts to contact attorneys for Killion and the other would-be intervenors for comment were unsuccessful. One of the eight would-be intervenors — two registered Democrats and six Republicans — declined to comment. Marise Stillman, a GOP committee member from Prospect Park in Delaware County, said she could not talk because the matter was in litigation.
The ACLU plaintiffs are asking for a speedy hearing to get the suit resolved before the Nov. 6 election. The state Attorney General's Office, defending the law, has opposed that request and suggested a hearing date of Sept. 10 to allow both parties to "fully litigate the matter."
It was not immediately clear how the intervenors group was formed and who is paying the legal fees, or whether the law firms involved are handling the case pro bono. Cocounsel Michael Morley, a Washington-based former Bush administration attorney, referred calls to lead counsel Kathleen Jones Goldman of the Pittsburgh-based law firm Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, who did not return a phone call seeking comment.