Attorney General Kathleen Kane should vigorously defend the state's voter identification law and leave the determination of its constitutionality to the courts, where it belongs.
To do otherwise will leave her open to more criticism that she is making decisions for partisan reasons.
Kane recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that her office might decline to defend the voter ID law because of her concerns about its constitutionality. Kane, the first Democrat elected as attorney general, criticized the law as a candidate saying it could disenfranchise minorities and the elderly.
But Kane is no longer running for office. She's in it, and defending state laws is a key responsibility of the attorney general.
The law that created the independent attorney general department states in part, "It shall be the duty of the attorney general to uphold and defend the constitutionality of all statutes" barring a court ruling to the contrary.
A hearing on the voter ID law is set to begin in mid-July before Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who heard previous challenges to the statute.
The yet-to-be implemented law was stayed for last November's election and will not be in effect for the upcoming May primary election under an agreement reached between the state and groups challenging the measure.
Under the law, Pennsylvania voters would have to present a valid photo ID, such as a driver's license, PennDOT-issued identification card or other specific documentation before casting a ballot in an election. If the person did not have the proper identification when arriving at the polling place, that individual would cast a provisional ballot and then would have to present a legal photo ID to county elections officials within six days of the election for their ballot to be counted.
Kane told the Post-Gazette that leaders in her office are "talking a lot about the role of the attorney general versus the role of also protecting the constitution."
But it's the role of the courts, not the attorney general, to decide whether a measure approved by the General Assembly and signed by the governor passes constitutional muster.
Clearly Kane is aware what fellow Democrats think about the voter ID law.
A spokesman for House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, was quoted by Capitolwire as saying: "Attorney General Kane knows that every Democrat in the House and Senate voted against this unnecessary law. Our position is clear. As for whether staff in the Office of the Attorney General will continue to defend this bad law, that is an internal decision to be made by the attorney general."
If Kane declines to defend the voter ID law, that job would fall to the governor's Office of General Counsel.
Given Kane's ambivalence on the law, perhaps the Office of General Counsel would present a stronger defense of the measure.
But that also would show just how partisan Kane is in her job, and that will only result in a further lack of confidence that she is putting Pennsylvania's needs above her party's.
-The Altoona Mirror