Friday, December 4

Lawyer behind Trump’s legal campaign to win Pa. has a long history in Philly

Linda Kerns

Kerns is challenging thousands of votes cast in Philadelphia and, in a separate suit filed Monday in Harrisburg, is seeking to disqualify even larger blocks of votes cast across the Keystone State. The lawsuits, filed despite no evidence that any votes were deliberately cast in violation of the law, hinge on an argument that mismanagement and a lack of election observation effectively invalidated hundreds of thousands of ballots — an argument roundly refuted by Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, as well as county lawyers, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters.

“The voters have spoken and the Trump campaign cannot be allowed to raise a bunch of scurrilous allegations, unsupported by a shred of evidence, to disenfranchise potentially millions of Pennsylvania voters,” said Andy Hoover, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania chapter of the ACLU, which filed along with other organizations to intervene in the suit.

Much of the Trump campaign’s endgame, no matter how much of a long shot, now rests on Kerns’ shoulders. It’s an interesting place to be for a lawyer little known outside the region, whose recent election litigation echoes complaints that the attorney has made about Philadelphia elections for over a decade.

“She’s a good lawyer, and she’s dedicated and hardworking,” said Vito Canuso, who worked with Kerns before stepping down as chair of the Philadelphia GOP. “And truly a conservative. Very strong in her religious beliefs.”

Kerns declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson for the Trump campaign.

A Loyola University Chicago graduate and member of the conservative Federalist Society, Kerns has described herself as the child of Democrats raised in Broomall, Delaware County. The owner of rescued dogs she named “Gipper” and “Thatcher” after iconic conservative politicians, Kerns described herself in a Philadelphia Inquirer report over a decade ago as being “to the right of Sen. John McCain politically.”

She is a semi-regular AM talk-radio guest and co-founder of a right-wing opinion blog called Broad + Liberty, which is sponsored by the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market think tank. For Kerns, the blog has become a useful platform to rail against everything from the criminal justice policies of District Attorney Larry Krasner down to the city’s decision to jettison late library book fines.

Some losses, some wins
Election law has long been a particular passion for Kerns, who began working election cases in Philadelphia in the 2000s and has found herself at the center of many local voting controversies over the years. In 2008, she represented the Philly GOP in an Election Day voter intimidation complaint against members of a radical political group known as the New Black Panther Party who appeared at a North Philadelphia polling place.

The complaint alleged the men made “statements containing racial threats” and “menacing gestures.”

“That would be intimidating to anybody,” Kerns said at the time.

However, one of the men was a licensed poll watcher. And while the story swept into national news and resulted in charges filed by the Department of Justice, the courts never convicted the men of any crimes.
But Kerns has also won clearer victories against political misconduct in Philadelphia. She was involved in a complaint about a former Pennsylvania House candidate in North Philadelphia’s 197th District, who was thrown off the ballot in 2018 after it was shown that he didn’t live in the district. She was also involved in a subsequent suit that prevented a replacement candidate from being placed on the ballot.

But some Democrats in Philadelphia also recounted sometimes baffling legal challenges from the attorney over the years. Rich Lazer recalled an instance in which Kerns personally challenged an effort by then-City Councilman Jim Kenney to obtain an emergency ballot to vote after surgery put him in the hospital on Election Day.

“He was in the hospital. He’s never missed an election, and he thought he would have been out in time. It was a legitimate reason and issue,” said Lazer, who filed the ballot application on Kenney’s behalf. “It just seemed like they were trying to make it harder for people to vote.”

Kerns, while serving as co-chair of the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Republican National Lawyers Association, was most notably involved in a 2010s push for more stringent voter ID laws in Pennsylvania that aimed to reduce alleged instances of voter fraud.

However, as both advocates and law enforcement have struggled to detect evidence of large-scale voter fraud, some critics blasted the effort as voter suppression aimed at poor people. Kerns dismissed critics’ concerns, in an op-ed, at the time.

“I have to wonder whether the goal is justice and excellence or promoting a leftist agenda,” she wrote.

Although the state legislature eventually passed a voter ID bill, it was later overturned on constitutional grounds.

A few years later, Kerns was party to a voter integrity suit against the city of Philadelphia. Kerns got involved with a group calling itself the “American Civil Rights Union,” that filed a 2015 action asserting that local officials had improperly included a string of convicted felons on the city’s voter rolls.

“Most Pennsylvanians would be shocked to learn that ineligible, incarcerated felons remain on the voter rolls in the commonwealth,” Kerns said.

But a 1 ½ year-long legal battle arguing for the removal of those voters went nowhere, principally because Pennsylvania courts had ruled in 2001 that incarcerated felons could regain the right to vote after their release from custody. A judge in the case threatened to sanction the group for misrepresenting state law.

Although Kerns has long called for greater election security, she has also acknowledged these efforts’ limitations. In a 2012 fight to win placement for more Republican poll watchers, she said that campaign observers were unlikely to change the outcome of a high-turnout presidential contest and more important for local races decided by dozens or hundreds of votes.

“Would the placement of Republican poll watchers have made any difference in President Obama’s landslide win in Philadelphia? Obviously not,” Kerns said. “However, in between presidential years, the city holds three general elections and three primaries. Turnout can be about 20%, and some races are decided by razor-thin margins. A couple of stolen votes, in just a few of the more than 1,600 voting precincts, could change an outcome.”

Full Article | why.org
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