The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision just hours before the scheduled April 7 Wisconsin primary election confirms the devolution of our nation’s high court from impartial arbiters to blatant partisans. At the request of Republicans, the five Republican-appointed conservatives on the court rejected a federal judge’s order allowing Wisconsin state absentee ballots to be postmarked after election day as long as they reached the registrar by April 13. The conservative majority ironically justified overturning this election rule change by saying that long-standing precedent required that federal judges not change state election rules just days before an election. They ignored the fact that the governor’s March 24 coronavirus epidemic-related shelter-in-place order suddenly prompted 150,000 voters to request absentee ballots who previously planned on voting in person. With 1,550 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 24 deaths and evidence of increasing community transmission in their state, many Wisconsin voters suddenly preferred voting by mail rather than courting death-by-voting. The staff at the registrars’ offices worked as fast as possible but there were still 12,000 unanswered requests for an absentee ballot on Sunday, April 5. In their dissent, the four Democratic-appointed justices characterized as “novel” their conservative colleagues’ insistence that the 12,000 voters not receiving absentee ballots nonetheless have them postmarked by election day. The dissenters wrote, “A voter cannot deliver for postmarking a ballot she has not received.” The dissenters also wrote that their conservative colleagues’ characterization of the Wisconsin primary election as not substantially different from “an ordinary election” “boggles the mind.” Article IV, section 4 of the Constitution says, “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican form of government,” by which the framers meant a government where elected individuals represent the citizen body. By their action, the conservative justices ensured disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, thereby guaranteeing a state government that did not represent the whole “citizen body,” exactly contrary to the Constitution that they had sworn to uphold. But this decision is consistent with their previous decisions to invalidate key parts of the Voting Rights Act and to bar federal oversight of state gerrymandering efforts, the Constitution be damned.

William McCarthy

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