Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Judging Voter ID

The judge in the controversial voter ID case is an interesting case himself.

Judging Voter ID

The state judge deciding the controversial and highly-political Pennsylvania voter ID case is an interesting political case himself.

Commonwealth Court Judge Robert "Robin" Simpson is a Republican who used to be a Democrat.

Seems fitting that he sits in judgement on a Republican-pushed law passed in the Legislature without a single Democratic vote.

The veteran jurist first was appointed to the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas in 1989 by Democratic Gov. Casey. (Here's a picture of him being sworn in.)

Simpson, of Nazareth, then cross-filed to run in the primary for the county bench that year, losing on the Democratic side but winning as a Republican.

In the fall of `89, he narrowly beat the brother of former Democratic state party chairman and former state lawmaker T.J. Rooney.

Rooney tells me the campaign included the Simpson camp educating local voters with a message that Simpson's opponent, Fred Rooney, was not the Fred Rooney who served the region in Congress for 15 years during the `60's and `70's.

That Fred Rooney was T.J.'s and judicial candidate Rooney's uncle.

Ever notice how many Pennsylvania pols have family in the same business?

Simpson was elected to the state court in 2001. He appeared on the ballot as Robin Simpson, which some suggest was to make statewide voters think he was a woman. He one won of three seats up that year with 17.8 percent of the vote, beating his closest rival, Pittsburgh Democrat James Dodaro, by 1.4 percentage points.

But Simpson is regarded as someone who doesn't play political favorites and has a record supporting that, including a 2008 decision in which he sided with ACORN (The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) in a case in which the state Republican Party disputed ACORN voter registration efforts.

His ruling in voter ID, expected the week of August 13, could end up being final since it will be appealed to the state Supreme Court which currently includes three Democrats and three Republicans. Ties at the higher court level usually mean the lower court decision stands.

Almost certainly a Simpson ruling in favor of Democrats will have some Republicans label him `the John Roberts of PA politics,' and a ruling in favor of Republicans will draw Democratic whines such as "what did you expect, he's a Republican."

But there appears to be little evidence in Simpson's background or demeanor to suggest he'll decide on a partisan basis.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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