Posted Thu, Jul 2, 2020 10:18 pm by Amy Howe
Tonight, a divided Supreme Court granted an application from Alabama to temporarily freeze a lower judge's decision based on the COVID-19 pandemic, which would make it easier for state voters to cast postal votes in the upcoming state primaries is scheduled for July 14th. With a vote of 5 to 4, the judges put the order of a federal district court in Alabama on hold, while the state appeals to the United States Court of Appeal for the 11th circuit and, if necessary, the Supreme Court. The court's four other liberal judges – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan – stated that they had allowed the election accommodations to remain in place.
The ruling comes six days after the Supreme Court rejected an application from the Texas Democratic Party to temporarily reinstate a lower court ruling that would have allowed all state voters to vote without an apology by post due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also arrives on the same day that the judges rejected the Texas Democrats' request to expedite their petition to review their claims, an order that raises the prospect that the judges will find the merits of this dispute prior to the November 2020 election.
Today's order included a dispute over the postal voting requirements in Alabama, where the July 14 runoff will determine, among other things, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. In the Senate runoff, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will face former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville, who has been approved by President Donald Trump. The winner will meet Democrat Sen. Doug Jones in the November general election.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state allows all registered voters to vote in the run-off, which has been postponed from March 31 to July. Several Alabama voters who are at high risk of serious illness if they are exposed to COVID-19, and three groups of high-risk members filed a lawsuit with the Federal District Court against federal election law provisions that "pose serious obstacles to voting in the face of the pandemic." ". The district court agreed to this and issued an injunction on June 15, prohibiting electoral officials in three districts from requiring high-risk voters to have their envelopes attested or notarized without a letter and to send a copy of their photo ID. The district court also prevented the state from enforcing a roadside election ban, although it did not require a roadside election.
After the 11th Circle refused to put the District Court's order on hold, the state came to the Supreme Court and asked the judges to intervene. The order of the district court, the state said to the court, "rewrites Alabama's electoral law by banning electoral officers. Three districts have not implemented modest anti-fraud postal voting laws" and have asked electoral officials to allow roadside voting even though Alabama officials "admitted." concluded that trying a brand new electoral process during a pandemic would cause more logistical and security problems than it would repair and is likely to be illegal. "In a broader sense, the state added, the Supreme Court's precedent prohibits" federal courts from changing the rules of an ongoing or rapidly approaching election ". Tonight, the judges granted the state's request in a short, unsigned order.
In a request to maintain the order of the lower court, the state warned the judges that “(l) lower courts across the country are subject to a flood of applications for and appeals against preliminary rulings that affect state election laws in the face of COVID-19 question. At the beginning of April, the court blocked – also divided 5: 4 – an order from the lower court that extended the time limit for postal votes for the Wisconsin primary. In an unsigned statement, the majority affirmed that "lower federal courts should not normally change election rules on the eve of an election." Although the judges didn't explain their decision tonight, the same principle was probably convincing for the majority – and could well play a key role in future COVID-related election cases that come to court.
This entry was originally published on Howe on the Court.
The court approves Alabama's motion to block the decision on COVID-related accommodations for upcoming polls.
SCOTUSblog (July 2, 2020, 10:18 pm),