Pennsylvania Federal and State Courts Both Hear Oral Arguments Relating to Minor Party Ballot Access

On Wednesday, September 12, a panel of three Commonwealth Court Judges heard arguments over whether Libertarian signatures on the Pennsylvania statewide petition are valid or invalid if (1) the voter moved since registering to vote, and signed the petition with the new address; (2) if the signer entered the month and day but not “2012” in the “date” column. See this AP story on the hearing. A decision is expected Thursday, September 13. However, whichever side loses is expected to appeal to the State Supreme Court. While that happens, the grueling process of verifying signatures will begin again on Monday, September 17.

On Tuesday, September 11, U.S. District Court Lawrence Stengel heard arguments in Constitution Party of Pennsylvania v Aichele, 5:12-cv-2726. This is the case in which the Constitution, Green, and Libertarian Parties attack the Pennsylvania fee-challenge system, which puts petitioning groups at risk of being liable for as much as $110,000 if their petitions are rejected. Judge Stengel had jurisdiction over a similar case, filed by the same parties, back in 2009. He dismissed that case on ripeness and standing. At the beginning of the oral argument, he asked, “Didn’t I uphold this law before?” He had to be reminded that his first decision did not reach the merits of the case. The precedents are so strong that the system is unconstitutional, the state and the intervenors (the Republican challengers) have never put forth any theory in their briefs as to how it could be constitutional. But they tried very hard to persuade the judge to abstain on the grounds that the constitutional issues should be aired in the state courts. Judge Stengel seemed tempermentally inclined to want to abstain, but there are substantial legal arguments that say abstention would be legally improper.

3 comments

  1. Casual Bystander · · Reply

    This sure doesn’t sound very promising.

  2. Richard Schwarz · · Reply

    today’s ruling:

    Upon consideration of the cross-motions of Objectors and Candidates for summary judgment on legal
    Comment: issues, the memoranda of law of the parties and the arguments of counsel at oral argument on 9-12-12, it
    is ordered as follows: 1. On the issue of “Out of County” signatures, the court holds that challenged
    signatures on pages of the Nom. Papers for counties other than the county where the elector is registered
    to vote are not valid and orders that these signatures be stricken. 2. On the issue of signatures where the
    signer failed to write the year of signing, the court holds that those signatures are invalid and those
    signatures are stricken, unless cured by a sworn affidavit of the signing elector by 9-21-12. Senior Judge
    Colins dissents from this position of the court’s ruling and would hold that such signatures are not
    materially defective. 3. On the issue of the “Not Registered at Address” challenges, the signatures of
    registered voters where the address written by the voter does not match his or her registration address in
    the SURE system, the court holds that the mere fact by itself that the address does not match the
    address in the SURE system does not invalidate the signature. This ruling does not preclude Objectors
    from showing that the signature on the Nom Papers is not the signature of a registered voter. This ruling
    applies to both federal and state candidates. Judge Covey dissents from this position of the court ‘s ruling
    and would hold that the signature is invalid if the signer ‘s address on the Nom. Papers does not match the
    address in the SURE system and no evidence has been presented to show that the individual is in fact
    the person claimed to be the qualified elector. Opinion to Follow

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