LEGAL

Supreme Court Decision Allows Wisconsin Primary During Pandemic

Apr 7, 2020, 7:25 AM
The Supreme Court had been moving gingerly, sitting on a tinderbox of blockbuster cases and careful...
The Supreme Court had been moving gingerly, sitting on a tinderbox of blockbuster cases and carefully navigating the new Covid-19 world (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)
(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

(CNN) –– Until Monday night, the Supreme Court had been moving gingerly, sitting on a tinderbox of blockbuster cases and carefully navigating the new Covid-19 world.

All that changed when the court issued its first order related to the pandemic after a long day of ricocheting legal briefs concerning Wisconsin’s pending primary. Instead of a quiet compromise in the age of coronavirus, the court split 5-4 along ideological lines, in a stinging loss for Democrats and a signal that between now and November the Supreme Court’s path may not be smooth as the pandemic continues to cripple sectors of the country and voting disputes multiply.

The majority opinion was unsigned, but Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned a fiery dissent for the liberals, saying at one point the reasoning of her conservative colleagues “boggles” the mind.

At issue Monday was a request to the justices to review a lower court ruling that extended Wisconsin’s absentee voting deadlines in part because requests for absentee ballots were exploding and voters expressed fears of contamination and spreading the virus if they had to vote in person.

Republicans asked the justices to put that ruling on hold, while Democrats said they feared a ruling against them would disenfranchise voters and risk public health.

In an unsigned opinion, the Court’s five conservatives saw the case as a “narrow” dispute on a “technical question.” They stressed court precedent that discourages the changing of election rules so close to an election.

“This court has repeatedly emphasized that lower federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election,” they wrote. They noted the lower court had given the Democratic plaintiffs more than they had even asked for.

“Even in an ordinary election,” the majority reasoned, voters requesting absentee ballots at the deadline will usually receive their ballots on the day before or day of the election. For the majority, the Democrats “put forward no probative evidence in the District Court that these voters here would be in a substantially different position from late-requesting voters in other Wisconsin elections.”

It was that line of thinking that fired up the 87-year-old Ginsburg, who has been practicing social distancing but continuing her workout routine at the high court even if the building is closed to the public. Joined by her liberal colleagues, she blasted not only the majority’s reasoning, but the way her colleagues framed the dispute.

“The court’s suggestion that the current situation is not ‘substantially different’ from an ‘ordinary election’ boggles the mind,” she wrote.

Unlike the majority, Ginsburg focused on the virus and the fact that the state had 1,500 confirmed cases and 24 deaths “with evidence of increasing community spread.” Because gathering at polling places now poses “dire health risks,” an unprecedented number of Wisconsin voters were turning to absentee voting.

“While I do not doubt the good faith of my colleagues, the Court’s order, I fear, will result in massive disenfranchisement,” she wrote.

While the majority cited Supreme Court precedent meant to stop voter confusion, Ginsburg wrote about an unprecedented global health crisis. She said that the concerns raised by the court and advanced by the Republican National Committee “pale in comparison to the risk that tens of thousands of voters will be disenfranchised.”

And although she didn’t talk about other potential cases — for instance the move by several conservative states to restrict abortion during the pandemic in order to preserve medical supplies — she ended her opinion with a possible look forward. The case was about constitutional rights “and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the Nation.”

Her closing differed in every way from the majority, hinting of more similar disputes to come.

“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” the majority opinion said. “That point cannot be stressed enough.”

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Legal

Salt Lake County Jail...
Brittany Tait, KSL TV

ACLU Calls For Release Of Inmates After One Tests Positive For COVID-19

An inmate at the Salt Lake County Jail has tested positive for COVID-19, and the ACLU is now calling for the state's jails and the prison to release those who have fewer than 180 days left in their sentences.
3 years ago
FILE (Alex Wong/Getty Images)...
Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court Reporter

US Supreme Court Lets ‘Remain In Mexico’ Asylum Policy Stay In Place

The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that the controversial Trump administration "Remain in Mexico" asylum policy can stay in effect while legal challenges play out.
3 years ago
Movie producer Harvey Weinstein (R) enters New York City Criminal Court on February 24, 2020 in New...
MICHAEL R. SISAK, TOM HAYS and JENNIFER PELTZ Associated Press

Weinstein Sentenced To 23 Years For Sexual Assaults

Harvey Weinstein was sentenced Wednesday to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault.
3 years ago
FILE: The Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)...
MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press

Supreme Court Takes Up 1st Big Abortion Case Of Trump Era

The Supreme Court is taking up the first major abortion case of the Trump era.
3 years ago
A bump stock is installed on an AK-47 at Good Guys Gun and Range on February 21, 2018 in Orem, Utah...
Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court Reporter

Supreme Court leaves Trump bump stock ban in place

The Supreme Court left in place on Monday President Donald Trump's ban on bump stocks, turning away an appeal from owners of the device and gun rights groups.
3 years ago
A federal appeals court blocked the Trump administration from sending asylum seekers to Mexico to w...
Priscilla Alvarez, CNN

Appeals Court Blocks Trump Administration From Sending Asylum Seekers To Mexico To Await Hearings

A federal appeals court on Friday blocked the Trump administration from sending asylum seekers to Mexico to wait for their immigration hearings in the US.
3 years ago

Sponsored Articles

Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Ask these questions before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Cloud storage technology with 3d rendering drawer with files in cloud...
PC Laptops

How backing up your computer can help you relieve stress

Don't wait for something bad to happen before backing up your computer. Learn how to protect your data before disaster strikes.
young woman with stickers on laptop computer...
Les Olson

7 ways print marketing materials can boost your business

Custom print marketing materials are a great way to leave an impression on clients or customers. Read for a few ideas to spread the word about your product or company.
young woman throwing clothes to organize a walk in closet...
Lighting Design

How to organize your walk-in closet | 7 easy tips to streamline your storage today

Read our tips to learn how to organize your walk-in closet for more storage space. These seven easy tips can help you get the most out of your space.
Supreme Court Decision Allows Wisconsin Primary During Pandemic