The US Supreme Court delivered a temporary victory for voting rights on Monday. In a 4–4 split, the Supreme Court blocked the Pennsylvania GOP’s effort to limit mail-in voting in the state, leaving in place a lower court ruling that will allow state officials to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after Election Day.
In September, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled to extend mail-in voting in the state due to concerns over mail delivery delays. Less than two weeks later, Pennsylvania Republicans filed an emergency petition, asking the US Supreme Court to block the decision.
64% of Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballot requests have come from registered Democrats.
While the Supreme Court came to a tie on Monday, allowing the lower court decision to remain in place for now, Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh dissented, indicating that they would have granted the GOP’s request, despite the fact that state supreme courts are supposed to have the final authority on the interpretation of a state’s constitution and laws.
Their dissent signals their eagerness to help further Republican efforts to suppress votes and their willingness to strip state supreme courts of their authority.
Monday’s tie also raises concerns over the future of the Supreme Court and its ability to function as an impartial institution.
A fifth vote from another conservative justice, like Amy Coney Barrett, would not only have overturned the lower court ruling, but it also would have set an alarming precedent that state court decisions regarding federal elections would be subject to federal oversight.
With Barrett on the court, conservative justices would have the power to act as judicial activists and ensure conservative rulings on any and all election cases, something that President Trump specifically had in mind when he nominated her in the first place.
And while the Supreme Court’s decision not to overturn Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar is a victory, it is only temporary. The Pennsylvania GOP could very well choose to file another request to block the ruling after Barrett is confirmed.
That four justices sided with the GOP’s attempt to suppress votes and dictate how a state supreme court should interpret its own laws shows just how far the US Supreme Court is moving to the right, and Barrett’s appointment would only solidify this shift.