People wearing masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are waiting to be elected in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania primaries on June 2, 2020.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
The Supreme Court said Wednesday that it will not hasten demand from Pennsylvania Republicans for an extended deadline for postal ballot counting in the state, despite judges leaving open the possibility that they might ultimately rule in favor of the GOP.
The court announced its decision in an unsigned order, as is typical for emergencies. Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was sworn in earlier this week, did not attend. A court spokeswoman said it was "because she did not have time to fully review the parties' records".
Republicans are opposing a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that extended the deadline for receiving postal ballot papers by three days to November 6th so they can be counted. Before that, the ballot papers had to be received by 8 p.m. on election day, which is Tuesday.
The court's lawsuit means the issue will not be resolved before the election. However, if the judges rule in the Republicans' favor, ballots received after Tuesday may ultimately be disqualified. Pennsylvania is one of the most competitive battlefield states in the 2020 race between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden.
A previous challenge by the Republicans, which included the State party and legislature, was rejected by the Supreme Court on October 19. The court was stalled 4-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts on the side of the court's three Liberals, Judges Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. This tie allowed the state's Supreme Court decision to go into effect.
On October 23rd, the GOP renewed their challenge and asked the judges to resolve the matter on an accelerated schedule. Meanwhile, Barrett began her Supreme Court term, increasing the chances of a Republican victory on the matter. Barrett has been asked to withdraw from election-related cases, but has not pledged to do so.
In a statement Wednesday drafted by Judge Samuel Alito, along with Judges Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, the three Conservatives said the court's handling of the matter "unnecessarily created conditions that could lead to serious post-election problems ".
Alito wrote that it was "highly desirable" to have the case settled before the election and that it was "very likely" that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling would be unconstitutional.
"But I grudgingly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late stage to decide the matter before the election," he wrote.
In addition to an expedited schedule, Republicans had asked the Supreme Court to instruct Pennsylvania to separate ballots received after November 3rd. Pennsylvania told judges earlier Wednesday that it would do so voluntarily.
Alito wrote that nothing prevented the GOP from seeking relief from the Supreme Court "if for any reason they are not satisfied" with the state's assurance.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement that he welcomed "the court's decision to slow down, restore order and give Pennsylvania an election."
"Refusing expedited screening is good for Pennsylvania voters who don't see the rules changed the night before the election without proper screening," he said. "We know this fight may not be over and we are prepared."