The Supreme Court temporarily blocked a judge’s order that relaxed election rules to give an Idaho activist group additional time to gather signatures for a ballot initiative amid the current pandemic.
The vote on the unsigned order issued late in the day on July 30 was apparently 5 to 2.
It’s the latest order by the high court that declined to temporarily ease election law requirements in the age of the CCP virus, which causes the disease COVID-19.
Reclaim Idaho, a political action committee that proposes boosting funding in kindergarten through 12th-grade education by increasing Idaho’s corporate tax rate and taxes on individuals earning $250,000 or more annually, put its gathering effort on hold after it decided it didn’t want to gather signatures during the pandemic.
The PAC claims its First Amendment rights were violated when state law wasn’t temporarily loosened to allow it obtain signatures electronically.
A U.S. District Court judge extended deadlines and directed Idaho authorities to accept electronic signatures. That ruling was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which refused to put the judge’s ruling on hold but agreed to expedite consideration of the case.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Idaho Secretary of State of Idaho Lawerence Denney, both Republicans, filed the application for the stay in the case cited as Little v. Reclaim Ohio with the Supreme Court on July 14.
The U.S. district court injunction “seize[d] control of Idaho’s initiative process and delegate[d] the vast majority of the Idaho Legislature’s, Secretary of State’s and county clerk’s constitutional and statutory authorities and duties to the very private entities invested in getting their initiative petition on the ballot,” Little and Denney argued in their application.
“No system of checks and balances can support such an arbitrary abandonment of constitutional and statutorily-assigned election responsibilities.”
The application was referred to Justice Elena Kagan, who is the sitting Circuit Justice on the high court responsible for hearing emergency applications originating within the geographical boundaries of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh concurred in the granting of the stay that was issued late in the day on July 30. There is no indication in the order about how Kagan voted. For the stay to be approved, five justices would have had to vote for it.
In his concurring opinion, Roberts wrote that the state would likely suffer irreparable harm if a stay were not granted.
“Right now, the preliminary injunction disables Idaho from vindicating its sovereign interest in the enforcement of initiative requirements that are likely consistent with the First Amendment.”
He faulted the trial court, writing that it “did not accord sufficient weight to the state’s discretionary judgments about how to prioritize limited state resources across the election system as a whole.”
“This is not a case about the right to vote, but about how items are placed on the ballot in the first place. Nothing in the Constitution requires Idaho or any other state to provide for ballot initiatives. And the claims at issue here challenge the application of only the most typical sort of neutral regulations on ballot access.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 87, who underwent a minor medical procedure at a New York City hospital the day before, dissented.
Sotomayor accused the majority on the court of acting with undue haste.
“The Ninth Circuit will hear Idaho’s case on August 11, almost a month before Idaho’s Secretary of State must certify ballot questions to county clerks (on September 7), and almost three months before election day,” she wrote in her dissenting opinion.
“If the District Court’s preliminary injunction turns out to have been improper, Idaho will still have time to omit respondents’ initiative from the November ballot.”
“By jumping ahead of the court of appeals, this court once again forgets that it is ‘a court of review, not of first view,’” the justice wrote, referring to court precedent. Such action “undermines the public’s expectation that its highest court will act only after considered deliberation.”
Luke Mayville, a co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, told KTVB he was “shocked” by the Supreme Court ruling, which he called “disheartening.”
There is no indication in the order on whether Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer voted, so presumably they didn’t participate in considering the application.