The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a pair of legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s election rules, citing the cases were moot with Joe Biden sworn in as president.
As well as declining two cases involving Pennsylvania’s deadline for mail-in ballots, the high court also rejected election-related disputes from Georgia, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin with no noted dissents.
Republicans in Pennsylvania appealed a ruling from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court that had extended the acceptance of mail-in ballots three days after the election. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court’s ruling, so the ruling stands.
Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch said they would have heard the cases. Writing the dissent, Thomas said the Supreme Court has the opportunity to address the issue of “nonlegislative officials” changing election rules well before the next election and called the court’s refusal to hear the disputes “befuddling.”
“We failed to settle this dispute before the election, and thus provide clear rules. Now we again fail to provide clear rules for future elections,” Thomas wrote. “The decision to leave election law hidden beneath a shroud of doubt is baffling. By doing nothing, we invite further confusion and erosion of voter confidence. Our fellow citizens deserve better and expect more of us.”
Alito also filed a dissent agreeing with Thomas that the cases should have been heard, and Gorsuch signed Alito’s dissent. Alito said, “A decision in these cases would not have any implications regarding the 2020 election. But a decision would provide invaluable guidance for future elections.”
The issue is whether state courts or other officials have the right to change voting procedures set by the legislature where federal elections are at stake.
In Pennsylvania, the State Supreme Court extended the receipt of mail-in ballots citing the pandemic and the ability of the US Postal Service to deliver mail on time as an issue that may affect a fair election.
The question of who commands voting procedures is important to Republicans who are in control of more states than Democrats.
Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh all endorsed a view that the Constitution’s command that the “legislature” design the rules of elections means that state courts and agencies do not have a free hand in making changes to state laws. They say federal courts have a role in overseeing the state court decisions.
Kavanaugh endorsed this view in a pre-election decision, but did not join the others today who wanted to take the Pennsylvania case — the majority said the case was moot.
A law expert at New York University said the decision was likely motivated by a desire of the court to provide closure to the election of 2020.