Radio PA Roundtable – January 26-28, 2018

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, the fallout from this week’s PA Supreme Court ruling on Pennsylvania’s congressional district maps; and how the Shell cracker plant in western PA could be even bigger for the Keystone State than originally thought.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:

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Governor Corbett to Nominate Judge Correale Stevens to the PA Supreme Court

Governor Tom Corbett today will submit his nomination for a vacant seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. That seat opened up with the resignation last month of former Justice Joan Orie Melvin who was convicted on corruption charges earlier this year. She is appealing that conviction.

The governor has selected longtime Superior Court Judge Correale Stevens for the post. Stevens has been on that bench since 1998, serving as President Judge since 2011. Prior to that, Stevens was a Luzerne County Judge and District Attorney. He also spent four terms in the state House of Representatives.

The nomination, expected to be delivered to the state Senate today, requires a two-thirds confirmation vote. If that happens, Stevens will be seated on the high court for the term that ends in January of 2016. The election to select a permanent justice is due in November of 2015.


High Court Hears Voter ID Arguments, Decision Pending

Six months after it was signed into law, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was hearing arguments over the state’s controversial new Voter ID law in its Philadelphia chambers.  The entire session was broadcast live, statewide via PCN TV

The appellants’ lawyer David Gersch argued that the new photo identification requirements violate Pennsylvanians’ right to vote by disenfranchising many and burdening others.  “On Election Day, if Act 18 is not enjoined, then voters will be faced with the serious threat of losing the right to vote,” Gersch argued.  “By contract, if the injunction is entered, the harm to the Commonwealth is negligible.”

Gersch contends Voter ID is no mere election regulation because it does not guarantee that all qualified electors will be able to get the identification they need to cast a ballot.  Gersch did, however, acknowledge that all Voter ID laws are not necessarily unconstitutional.  “The vice is not requiring photo identification; the vice is in requiring photo identification that people do not have, and have a hard time getting.”      

The appellants are seeking a preliminary injunction so that the status quo remains in place through the November 6th General Election.  A full trial on the merits of the statute would then be held at a later date. 

A Commonwealth Court judge has already denied the preliminary injunction, writing in his opinion that he sees no reason why Pennsylvania voters need be disenfranchised. 

The state’s lawyers stressed the findings of the lower court throughout their arguments, stating that the plaintiffs failed to show either that they will succeed on the merits of their claims or that they would suffer irreparable harm.  Attorney John Knorr also pointed out that all of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit have either obtained a valid photo ID or have the means to do so.  “They couldn’t come up with one plaintiff, one actual human being, who would be harmed by this statute.” 

“Mr. Gersch said we should have a process in place so that everybody has the chance to get this ID, and we have that,” Knorr told the court as he praised the efforts of PennDOT and the Department of State. 

A panel of six justices must decide the law’s fate with just over 50 days to go until the election.  With one justice currently suspended, the court is comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats.  In the event of a deadlock, the Commonwealth Court decision would be upheld and the new photo ID requirements would be in place on Election Day.

Voter-ID Arguments Begin

History is being made as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opens its session today with arguments for and against Pennsylvania’s new Voter-ID law. In addition to considering a case that is receiving national attention, the high court is allowing its proceedings to be aired on live television on the Pennsylvania Cable Network.

Billing themselves as the oldest Supreme Court in the nation, dating back more than 300 years, PA’s justices are considering two major cases today: Voter-ID and the state legislative boundaries which were drawn, and then redrawn, during the redistricting process of 2011-2012. The Court overturned a previous legislative map in January, leaving this year’s elections to maps drawn in 2001.

Under the Voter-ID law, also known as Act 18, voters are required to present a valid photo ID at the polls before voting. Critics say it puts an undue burden on segments of the voting population. If the law is upheld, it will be in effect for the November 6th election.

Today’s session is also unusual in that one of the 7 Justices, Republican Joan Orie Melvin, has had to step aside to fight corruption charges. That leaves the court split 3-3 along assumed party lines, opening the door for a possible tie ruling. In that event, the Commonwealth Court ruling that refused to issue an injunction to block Voter-ID would stand.

PCN will be airing arguments in both cases throughout the day. The Supreme Court is meeting in Philadelphia for today’s session.


PA Supreme Court to Hear Voter ID Arguments

Nearly a month after a Commonwealth Court judge rejected Voter ID opponents’ plea for a preliminary injunction, the state Supreme Court is prepping to hear oral arguments on appeal.  Governor Tom Corbett has read Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s opinion, calling it well-reasoned.  “His opinion would have to be in error for [the Supreme Court] to overturn it,” Corbett said on Radio PA’s Ask the Governor program. 

With one justice currently suspended, the high court is comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans.  Corbett believes they will make their decision based on the law, not partisanship.  “That being said, as you know, if it’s three to three… then the opinion of Judge Simpson stands,” Corbett explained. 

PCN will provide live coverage of Thursday’s session in Philadelphia per a recent broadcast agreement with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. 

As the state presses forward with voter education efforts and implementation of the Voter ID law, the NAACP is working to get people the photo IDs required to vote on Election Day through of series of statewide Voter ID clinics.  “We try to help work through all the questions, provide the answers,” says Pennsylvania Civic Engagement Coordinator John Jordan. 

Jordan says about 75% of the people who attend the clinics actually have a form of photo ID that meets the law’s requirements, but they are happy to identify and assist the other 25%.  The NAACP opposes the Voter ID law and is participating in the lawsuit, but Jordan says the group’s outreach efforts will continue as long as necessary. 

Complete details on what types of ID are to be accepted under the new law, and how to obtain one for free, can be found online. 

Gov. Corbett sees no reason for confusion this November.  “It has been in the newspapers, it has been on the radio, it has been on television, it has been on the Internet.  If you don’t know that you need to show up with photo ID, than I don’t know where you’ve been.”

PA Supreme Court Rules on Special Elections

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that special elections for six vacant state House seats must be held in conjunction with the April 24th primary election. State House Speaker Sam Smith had been delaying the decision on the elections based on the uncertainty surrounding the Legislative Reapportionment Commission and the high court’s previous rejection of its new district maps.

The justices, however, ordered Smith to schedule the elections for next month using the 2001 maps, which will also be in play for the remainder of the House and Senate elections statewide.

The state Democratic party hailed the decision as a victory for the constituents of the vacant districts.