The Supreme Court granted an emergency plea from Ohio state officials to stop a decision from a lower court to expand early voting — the night before voting was supposed to start.
Yesterday, in a five-to-four decision — or really a conservative-to-liberal decision — SCOTUS reversed a federal appeals court decision which stopped the state from shrinking the early voting window from 35 to 28 days, and which required the state to reinstate some after-hours and Sunday voting that had been eliminated by the state legislature.
Under the guise of stopping non-existent voter fraud, the Republican-controlled state government changed the early voting window; the state’s “golden week,” when people could register to vote and cast ballots; and eliminated Sunday voting, which was used heavily by minority voters, according to the Washington Post.
US District Judge Peter Economus threw out the GOP’s plan and said elections would be held under Ohio’s old rules, as the new law “would unconstitutionally and disproportionality affect blacks and the poor, who tend to cast early in-person votes at a greater rate than whites,” the Post reported. A US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit also held up Economus’s order.
SCOTUS’s ruling was split down political lines, with Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan noting that they would have denied the request to allow the elections to continue under the state’s new, restrictive laws.
Conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Chief Justice John Roberts all ruled to grant the stay, which will remain in effect until action can be taken on an appeal to Economus’s ruling.
“While not a final decision on the merits of the case, this is a real loss for Ohio voters, especially those who must use evenings, weekends, and same-day voter registration to cast their ballot,” Freda Levenson, Legal Director of Ohio’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Early voting works – cutting popular days and hours is unnecessary and only hurts voters. To make it even worse, this last-minute decision will cause tremendous confusion among Ohioans about when and how they can vote”
SCOTUS’s decision carries weight in several other states dealing with cases over new, restrictive voting laws, including Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas. It’s likely that one, or a combination of these cases will reach SCOTUS for an official ruling, and the decision to allow the stay doesn’t bode well for any future cases.
A conservative-controlled Court, regardless of how apolitical Roberts claims it’s supposed to be, will be sure to rule in favor of conservative causes. The rulings in this case, Hobby Lobby, Citizens United, and over changes to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 have set the precedent for future cases.