By Pat Loeb, Jim Melwert, and Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sat in chambers this morning in Philadelphia City Hall (top photo), hearing oral arguments on an effort to delay implementation of the state’s new voter ID law (see related stories), a rally was held across the street to protest the controversial law.
In a rare move, the court decided to allow cameras and microphones into the courtoom to broadcast the proceedings on live television. The arguments were carried on the state’s cable channel, PCN.
Attorney David Gersch (below), arguing for the voters who brought the case, told the justices that the law places an unconstitutional burden on the fundamental right to vote.
“And it’s fitting that we’re here in Philadelphia, where our nation began, because the right to vote is our nation’s proudest boast,” Gersch told the justices.
Attorneys for the governor and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania argued that the law is not burdensome. John Knorr, representing the state, took issue with estimates of the number of voters who would be disenfranchised if the law took effect with this November’s general election.
“This idea that, on Election Day, we’re going to have a million and a half voters without ID is a fantasy,” Knorr said.
The justices asked sometimes pointed questions of the state counsel. Judge Thomas Saylor noted the law actually could not be implemented as written because the “safety net” ID it prescribes — for those without any other form of acceptable identification — is impossible for Penndot to supply. Pennsylvania’s secretary of state has said she has created an alternate, along with a web site, votespa.com, explaining the new law to voters.
Across the street from City Hall this morning, NAACP national president Benjamin Todd Jealous addressed a rally of more than 150 people, citing Republican Pa. House leader Mike Turzai’s comment earlier this summer that voter ID laws will “allow” Governor Mitt Romney to win Pennsylvania in the fall election (see related story).
“Small-minded men, so small they would contort our democracy for their own partisan purposes, have no place in our democracy,” Jealous told the crowd. “They’re not just a shame to our country, they’re a shame to their own party.”
Gloria Gilman, who said she was attending the rally out of outrage over the new law, thinks the lower court’s opinion that every registered voter already has access to an acceptable photo ID or to an absentee ballot is false.
“Most of those offices are only open 9-5, Monday through Friday,” she said. “Working people have trouble getting there. People who are low-income or disabled have trouble getting there.”