Justices deny fast, new look at Pennsylvania ballot deadline

Court Watch 2020/10/30 12:24   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would not grant a quick, pre-election review to a new Republican appeal to exclude absentee ballots received after Election Day in the presidential battleground state of Pennsylvania, although it remained unclear whether those ballots will ultimately be counted. The court’s order left open the possibility that the justices could take up and decide after the election whether a three-day extension to receive and count absentee ballots ordered by Pennsylvania’s high court was proper.

The issue would take on enormous importance if Pennsylvania turns out to be the crucial state in next week’s election and the votes received between Nov. 3 and Nov. 6 are potentially decisive. The Supreme Court ruled hours after Pennsylvania’s Department of State agreed to segregate ballots received in the mail after polls close on Tuesday and before 5 p.m. on Nov. 6. President Donald Trump’s campaign suggested that those ballots will never be counted.

“We secured a huge victory when the Pennsylvania Secretary of State saw the writing on the wall and voluntarily complied with our injunction request, segregating ballots received after the Nov. 3 deadline to ensure they will not be counted until the Supreme Court rules on our petition,” Justin Clark, a deputy campaign manager, said in an interview. The court, Clark said, deferred “the most important issue in the case, which is whether state courts can change the time, place and manner of elections, contrary to the rules adopted by the Legislature.”

Pennsylvania’s Department of State could not immediately say Wednesday night whether it would revise its guidance to the counties about whether to count those ballots. The Alliance for Retired Americans, which had sued in Pennsylvania state courts for an extended deadline, said the ruling means that ballots arriving during the three-day period after Election Day will be counted. “This is an enormous victory for all Pennsylvania voters, especially seniors who should not have to put their health at risk during the pandemic in order to cast a ballot that will be counted,” Richard Fiesta, the alliance’s executive director, said in a statement.

New Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the vote “because of the need for a prompt resolution of it and because she has not had time to fully review the parties’ filings,” court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said in an email. Justice Samuel Alito, writing for three justices, indicated he would support the high court’s eventual review of the issue. But, he wrote, “I reluctantly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election.” Last week, the justices divided 4-4, a tie vote that allowed the three-day extension ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to remain in effect.
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Philadelphia victim’s family sought ambulance, not police

Court News 2020/10/27 16:38   Bookmark and Share
The family of a Black man killed when Philadelphia police officers fired a dozen rounds in a shooting caught on video had called for an ambulance to get him help with a mental health crisis, not for police intervention, their lawyer said Tuesday. Additionally, Walter Wallace’s wife is pregnant and is scheduled to have labor induced in coming days, the lawyer, Shaka Johnson, told reporters from the steps of a family home. Wallace’s father planned a statement later Tuesday, Johnson said. Philadelphia officials anticipated a second night of unrest Tuesday, and a Pennsylvania National Guard spokesperson told The Inquirer that several hundred guardsmen were expected to arrive in the city within 24 to 48 hours.

Chief Police Inspector Frank Vanore said earlier at a news conference that police had received a call Monday about a man screaming and that he was armed with a knife.  The two officers each fired at least seven rounds — at least 14 total shots — but could not say how many times Wallace, 27, was struck. Wallace’s father, Walter Wallace Sr., earlier told The Philadelphia Inquirer that his son was on medication and struggled with his mental health. "Why didn’t they use a Taser?” he asked.

The officers had not been interviewed as of Tuesday afternoon, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. She said the officers’ names and other identifying information, including their race, would be withheld per department policy until the department could be sure releasing the information would not pose a threat to their safety. Neither officer had a Taser or similar device, with Outlaw saying the department has previously asked for funding to equip more officers with those devices.

Wallace was shot before 4 p.m. Monday in an episode filmed by a bystander and posted on social media. Witnesses complained that police fired excessive shots. Police arrested at least 91 people during unrest Monday night and Tuesday morning, with three people cited for failing to disperse and about a dozen charged with assault of an officer. Police had previously said 30 officers were injured in the unrest, most of them hit with thrown objects like bricks. One officer was still hospitalized Tuesday with a broken leg after being purposely run over by a pickup truck, police said.

Officials with the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing officers in Philadelphia, said the officer injuries were unacceptable and called for public patience as the investigation into the shooting continued. Officers said they found Wallace holding a knife and ordered him to drop the weapon several times.

Wallace advanced toward the officers, who fired several times, said Officer Tanya Little, a police spokesperson. In the video, a woman and at least one man follow Wallace, trying to get him to listen to officers, as he briskly walks across the street and between cars. The woman, identified by family members as Wallace’s mother, screams and throws something at an officer after her son is shot and falls to the ground.
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Trump, Biden lawyer up, brace for White House legal battle

Legal Business 2020/10/24 21:38   Bookmark and Share
President Donald Trump’s and Democratic rival Joe Biden’s campaigns are assembling armies of powerful lawyers for the possibility that the race for the White House is decided not at the ballot box but in court.

They have been engaging in a lawyer’s version of tabletop war games, churning out draft pleadings, briefs and memos to cover scenarios that read like the stuff of a law school hypothetical more than a real-life case in a democracy.

Attorneys for the Republicans and the Democrats are already clashing in courts across the U.S. over mailed-in ballot deadlines and other issues brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. And as Trump tries to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election, both sides have built massive legal operations readying for a bitterly disputed race that lands at the Supreme Court.

“We’ve been preparing for this for well over a year,” Republican National Committee Chief Counsel Justin Riemer told The Associated Press. “We’ve been working with the campaign on our strategy for recount preparation, for Election Day operations and our litigation strategy.”

On the Democratic side, the Biden campaign’s election protection program includes a special national litigation team involving hundreds of lawyers led by Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, and Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under President Barack Obama, among others. Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel to Obama, and Biden campaign general counsel Dana Remus are focused on protecting the rights of voters, who have been enduring long lines at polling places around the country on the belief that the presidential election will be decided by their ballots.

Both sides are informed by the experience of the 2000 election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. But this year, because Trump has pushed unsubstantiated claims about the potential for voter fraud with increased voting by mail, sowing doubt about the integrity of the result, lawyers are preparing for a return trip before the high court.
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High court to review two cases involving Trump border policy

Court News 2020/10/20 09:47   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two cases involving Trump administration policies at the U.S.-Mexico border: one about a policy that makes asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for U.S. court hearings and a second about the administration's use of money to fund the border wall. The justices’ decision to hear the cases continues its practice of reviewing lower court rulings that have found President Donald Trump's immigration policies illegal over the past four years.
Most notably, the high court reviewed and ultimately upheld Trump's travel ban on visitors from some largely Muslim countries. In June, the court kept in place legal protections for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

The justices will not hear either new case until 2021, and the outcome of the presidential election could make the cases go away, or at least reduce their significance. If Democrat Joe Biden wins the White House, he has pledged to end “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which Trump considers a cornerstone policy on immigration.

In the border wall case, much of the money has already been spent and wall constructed. It is unclear what could be done about wall that has already been built if the administration loses, but it could conceivably be torn down. Biden has said he would cease wall construction if elected but would not tear down what was built under Trump’s watch. The court has allowed both policies to continue even after they were held illegal by lower courts, a sign the challengers could face long odds when the justices ultimately decide the cases.

The Trump administration policy known informally as “Remain in Mexico” began in January 2019. It became a key pillar of the administration’s response to an unprecedented surge of asylum-seeking families from Central American countries at the border, drawing criticism for having people wait in highly dangerous Mexican cities. Lower courts found that the policy is probably illegal. But earlier this year the Supreme Court stepped in to allow the policy to remain in effect while a lawsuit challenging it plays out in the courts.

More than 60,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico under the policy. The Justice Department estimated in late February that there were 25,000 people still waiting in Mexico for hearings in U.S. court. Those hearings were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement after the high court agreed to take the case, Department of Justice spokeswoman Alexa Vance said the administration is pleased the court agreed to hear the case, calling the program “a critical component of our efforts to manage the immigration crisis on our Southern Border.”

Judy Rabinovitz, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the policy, called the policy “illegal and depraved.” “The courts have repeatedly ruled against it, and the Supreme Court should as well,” she said in a statement. The high court also agreed to hear the Trump administration’s appeal of a lower court ruling that it improperly diverted money to build portions of the border wall with Mexico.

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Michigan court blocks 2-week absentee ballot extension

Lawyer Blog Post 2020/10/18 09:48   Bookmark and Share
Absentee ballots must arrive by Election Day to be counted, the Michigan Court of Appeals said Friday, blocking a 14-day extension that had been ordered by a lower court and embraced by key Democratic officials in a battleground state. Any changes must rest with the Legislature, not the judiciary, the Republican-appointed appeals court judges said in a 3-0 opinion.

Absentee ballot extensions in Wisconsin and Indiana have also been overturned by higher courts. Michigan’s ability to handle a flood of ballots will be closely watched in a state that was narrowly won by President Donald Trump in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson last week said 2.7 million people had requested absentee ballots, a result of a change in law that makes them available to any voter.

Michigan law says absentee ballots must be turned in by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be valid. But Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens had ordered that any ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 could be counted if they arrived within two weeks after the Nov. 3 election.

Stephens said there was “unrefuted evidence” about mail delivery problems because of the coronavirus pandemic. She said more than 6,400 ballots arrived too late to be counted in the August primary. The appeals court, however, said the pandemic and any delivery woes “are not attributable to the state.”

“Although those factors may complicate plaintiffs’ voting process, they do not automatically amount to a loss of the right to vote absentee,” the court said, noting that hundreds of special boxes have been set up across Michigan.  The court also reversed another portion of Stephens’ decision, which would have allowed a non-family member to deliver a completed ballot in the final days before the election if a voter consented.

“The constitution is not suspended or transformed even in times of a pandemic, and judges do not somehow become authorized in a pandemic to rewrite statutes or to displace the decisions made by the policymaking branches of government,” Judge Mark Boonstra said in a separate, 10-page concurring opinion.

Benson and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats, had declined to appeal Stephens’ rulings, leaving it to the Republican-controlled Legislature to intervene.
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Pennsylvania high court to settle voter signatures fight

Court News 2020/10/17 06:45   Bookmark and Share
Pennsylvania’s highest court granted a request Wednesday to wade into a fight over whether counties should count mail-in ballots when a voter’s signature doesn’t necessarily match the one on their registration. In its brief order, the state Supreme Court said it will decide the matter after a filings deadline in the case on Friday.

In guidance last month to counties, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, told them that state law does not require or permit them to reject a mail-in ballot solely over a perceived signature inconsistency. After President Donald Trump’s campaign contested that guidance in a federal court case, Boockvar asked the court to back up her guidance.

Rejection of ballots over signatures poses “a grave risk of disenfranchisement on an arbitrary and wholly subjective basis,” Boockvar’s court filing said. Trump’s campaign asked a federal judge to declare that Boockvar’s guidance is unconstitutional and to block counties from following that guidance. The judge dismissed the case on Saturday.

However, state Republican lawmakers oppose Boockvar’s guidance to counties, saying in court filings that it would “rewrite existing law,” while disrupting Pennsylvania’s “clear and unambiguously crafted procedures for determining and challenging the validity” of a mail-in or absentee ballot. Boockvar’s guidance to counties comes amid a surge in mail-in voting and rising concerns that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots will be discarded in the presidential election over a variety of technicalities.

The fight over signatures is one of many partisan battles  being fought in the state Legislature and the courts over mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, amid warnings that a presidential election result will hang in limbo for days on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania. After President Donald Trump’s campaign contested that guidance in a federal court case, Boockvar asked the court to back up her guidance.

Rejection of ballots over signatures poses “a grave risk of disenfranchisement on an arbitrary and wholly subjective basis,” Boockvar’s court filing said. Trump’s campaign asked a federal judge to declare that Boockvar’s guidance is unconstitutional and to block counties from following that guidance. The judge dismissed the case on Saturday. However, state Republican lawmakers oppose Boockvar’s guidance to counties, saying in court filings that it would “rewrite existing law,” while disrupting Pennsylvania’s “clear and unambiguously crafted procedures for determining and challenging the validity” of a mail-in or absentee ballot.

Boockvar’s guidance to counties comes amid a surge in mail-in voting and rising concerns that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots will be discarded in the presidential election over a variety of technicalities. The fight over signatures is one of many partisan battles  being fought in the state Legislature and the courts over mail-in voting in Pennsylvania, amid warnings that a presidential election result will hang in limbo for days on a drawn-out vote count in Pennsylvania.
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