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.