The US Supreme Court docket divisions on voting circumstances put Barrett By Reuters within the highlight
© Reuters. US Supreme Court Barrett arrives with US President Trump to take their oath of office at a ceremony at the White House in Washington
By Lawrence Hurley and Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Divisions within the US Supreme Court uncovered in its decision to prevent postal ballot extension in Wisconsin reveal new judge Amy Barrett Coney Barrett in disputes similar to the upcoming November 3 election could cast a decisive vote.
Monday evening’s decision upheld a Wisconsin policy that postal ballot papers must be in the hands of election officials by the end of polls on election day. The decision was taken minutes before the Republican-controlled Senate voted on Barrett, the third Supreme Court appointed by President Donald Trump, with a Conservative majority of 6-3.
In the Wisconsin case, the court was split 5: 3, with the conservative judges in the majority and the liberals disagreed. In separate individual reports by the judges who accompanied the court’s action, it was addressed whether it is empowered to reconsider decisions of state courts that interpret the constitution of their state. This is a key factor in other election-related cases, including a closely watched Pennsylvania case.
Conservative judges said they were less willing to oppose decisions by state courts. The Liberal judges stated that regardless of which court handles a case before it reaches the Supreme Court, the main problem must be protecting the right to vote.
The court has also pending electoral proceedings from North Carolina, which, like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, is a campaigning state that is vital to Trump’s hopes of winning a second term in his contest with Democrat Joe Biden. Additional cases could come to the court before or after election day.
Hundreds of election-related cases have been tried in state and federal courts. Democrats are generally looking to expand access to mail-in and postal voting as many Americans try to avoid crowded polling stations amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Supreme Court has generally blocked such moves unless the state government approves them.
Conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, a Trump-appointed representative, voted against extending deadlines in the Wisconsin case. In his response to the court’s complaint on Monday, Kavanaugh cited the Supreme Court’s Bush v Gore ruling that ruled the 2000 presidential election in favor of Republican George W. Bush versus Democrat Al Gore.
Kavanaugh wrote that “under the US Constitution, state courts do not have a blank check to rewrite state election laws for federal elections.”
Before joining the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh, Barrett and Chief Justice John Roberts worked on Bush’s side in the Florida ballot recount litigation.
Judge Neil Gorsuch, also appointed by Trump, said in the Wisconsin case that federal judges should not consider changing electoral rules during the pandemic.
“The constitution provides that state legislators – no federal judges, no state judges, no governors, no other state officials – have primary responsibility for setting the electoral rules,” wrote Gorsuch.
Gorsuch’s comments could suggest that he would vote against an extension of the deadline for postal ballot papers in North Carolina if the decision of the state electoral committee, not the legislature, is reviewed.
Joshua Douglas, professor of suffrage at the University of Kentucky, said Kavanaugh and Gorsuch’s opinions were “even more shocking” than the Wisconsin decision itself.
“These two decisions were wrongly postponed before the state parliament, regardless of the constitutional right to vote,” said Douglas.
Wisconsin state legislature is controlled by Republicans.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the Wisconsin decision “disenfranchises large numbers of responsible voters amid dangerous pandemic conditions.”
In the Pennsylvania litigation, the Supreme Court was split 4-4, allowing the state to extend the deadline for postal ballot papers by three days as long as they are postmarked by election day. The tie took place because the court was understaffed after the death of the liberal judiciary Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Roberts, a Conservative, joined Liberal justices to allow the Pennsylvania extension but voted Monday to cut the Wisconsin deadline. Roberts distinguished the two cases, noting that the Pennsylvania case came from the state supreme court, while the Wisconsin case involved a federal judge who set an extended deadline for the state’s vote.
The Pennsylvania Republicans have taken the case to court, hoping for a decision in their favor before election day. Barrett could possibly cast the decisive vote.
James Gardner, professor of suffrage at the University of Buffalo, said the court had generally tried to avoid higher-ranking officials this year, with Roberts having a casting vote.
Although the court’s approach is “superficially neutral,” it often has the effect of restricting voting rights, Gardner said. Many Republican-controlled lawmakers have put in place rules that restrict access to the polls.
A remaining question for Barrett is whether she could withdraw from election-related cases. The Senate Democrats asked her not to participate in such cases during the confirmation process, as Trump commented that he expects the court to rule on the election result and that she should be in the bench in time to participate in such cases.
Barrett has announced that she will follow the court’s normal denial rules, which give individual judges the final say when participating in a case.
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Luzerne County Electoral Board, which advocates the extension of the deadline, filed a rare motion urging Barrett to step aside.