Late Monday night, April 6, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court order extending absentee ballot voting in Wisconsin. By a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, it set aside an April 2 ruling from Obama appointee and District Court Judge William Conley, who created the extension. The Supreme Court ruled:
“Therefore, subject to any further alterations that the State may make to state law, in order to be counted in this election a voter’s absentee ballot must be either (i) postmarked by election day, April 7, 2020, and received by April 13, 2020, at 4:00 p.m., or (ii) hand-delivered as provided under state law by April 7, 2020, at 8:00 p.m.”
The unsigned order of the court was joined by the conservative bloc of Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh. The majority went out of its way to fend off attacks about the soundness of holding an election during a pandemic. It clarified the question presented as narrowly defined to the issue of whether ballots postmarked on April 8 and later, but received by election officials by April 13, would be counted.
What About the Cheeseheads?
Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer signed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent. She wrote that, in light of the majority opinion, people “will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”
The two opinions demonstrate the ideological dispute between the left and right on the court. The liberal justices worked to fix the problem of voting in a pandemic and fashion rules that work for our society in a way they find reasonable. The conservative justices rejected the notion that they can reach beyond the question presented or help the cause of facilitating voting in the midst of the health crisis. After addressing the matter before the court, the majority addressed the other issues directly, saying they could not be resolved by the court:
“The Court’s decision on the narrow question before the Court should not be viewed as expressing an opinion on the broader question of whether to hold the election, or whether other reforms or modifications in election procedures in light of COVID-19 are appropriate. That point cannot be stressed enough.”
While national stories have focused on Wisconsin’s Democratic Party presidential primary race, the election is consequential in the state for many more contests, including a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, three seats on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, more than 100 additional judgeships, more than 500 school board seats, and several thousand other positions. Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers waited until Friday, April 3, to stop the Tuesday, April 7, election. Republicans who control both houses of the legislature opposed the last-minute change.
Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.
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