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Court Decisions Force Wisconsin to Hold Primary During Pandemic. Here’s What You Need to Know

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  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the state must hold its primary Tuesday, overruling Gov. Tony Evers executive order to postpone the election.
  • Separately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a lower ruling that would have let absentee ballots be cast until April 13.
  • Both decisions were the results of legal challenges from the GOP-led legislature, which refused to delay the election or allow for full mail-in voting and also objected to extending absentee voting.
  • Wisconsin is now the only state to hold a major in-person election since shelter-in-place orders have been implemented all over the country.

Wisconsin’s Legal Battle

After a dizzying legal back-and-forth, Wisconsin held its primary election Tuesday despite warnings from public health experts about gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

Wisconsin is now the only state to hold a major in-person election since it and the majority of other states issued shelter in place orders. More than a dozen other states postponed their primaries in response to the outbreak, making Wisconsin the only state to hold in-person elections in April.

That, however, is not for lack of trying on the part of Gov. Tony Evers. On Monday, Evers issued an executive order delaying the election until June 9.

According to reports, Evers held off on the move until the last minute because many local offices on the ballot start their terms in April, and Wisconsin state law says only the state legislature can change the date of the election. 

But the GOP-led legislature refused to change the date or allow the election to go forward with all mail-in ballots. When Evers went ahead with the executive order, the state legislature filed a legal challenge, saying the governor was exceeding his constitutional authority.

Shortly after, a conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court shot down the order, ruling that the election had to go forward on Tuesday.

In a separate ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal court decision that would have extended absentee voting until April 13. The lower court’s decision had also received a legal challenge from the state’s Republicans.

In a 5-4 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that extending the deadline for absentee voting “fundamentally alters the nature of the election.”

All four of the liberal justices dissented. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing review of the decision.

“The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic,” she wrote.

“With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own.”

Poll Workers and Condensed Locations

Similarly, there were also many concerns about the safety of poll workers and election officials as well.

While officials said they were taking precautions to protect their health at voting precincts, many also told reporters that all the legal back-and-forth created confusion and logistical problems.

That was made worse by the fact that thousands of poll workers said they will not work, with some reportedly saying they were being asked to risk their health.

According to the New York Times, “roughly 2,400 National Guardsmen were being trained as poll workers as late as Monday, it still won’t come close to the more than 7,000 who have already said they cannot work.”

The lack of poll workers has also prompted officials to shut down hundreds of polling stations. One of the most dramatic examples was in Milwaulkee, where the number of polling locations was cut from 180 to just five, despite the fact that election workers expected more than 50,000 voters to turn out.

The move forced those who did decide to vote in-person to wait in long lines and further risk exposing themselves to more people.

 Response

Many people took to Twitter to share videos of lines wrapping around buildings or spanning whole blocks.

A number of users argued that holding in-person voting during a pandemic was undemocratic or amounted to voter suppression.

Some directly accused the state’s Republicans of endangering their people, while others also condemned the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Many of those points were echoed by presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

“It’s outrageous that the Republican legislative leaders and the conservative majority on the Supreme Court in Wisconsin are willing to risk the health and safety of many thousands of Wisconsin voters tomorrow for their own political gain,” he wrote on Twitter.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has not said much since the decision, but on Thursday, he took a different stance.

“There’s a lot of things that can be done; that’s for the Wisconsin courts and folks to decide,” he told reporters, adding that both in-person and mail-in voting could be done safely.

However, there were some who applauded the decision to keep in-person voting. 

Others appeared to downplay the move, like one Republican county chair, Jim Miller of Sawyer County, who said the voting process would be like picking up food under Wisconsin’s stay-at-home order.

“If you can go out and get fast food, you can go vote curbside,” he said. “It’s the same procedure.”

President Donald Trump, for his part, also chimed in Tuesday morning, encouraging people to go out and vote for a conservative state Supreme Court justice who supported the Second Amendment.

What’s Next?

Currently, it is unclear how voter turnout has been impacted. As for the election results, those are not to be expected for several more days.

The federal judge that initially allowed absentee ballots to be sent until April 13 also ruled that election officials had to hold results until that same date. According to reports, the U.S. Supreme Court decision does not seem to have changed that.

That said, Biden has been pulling out a strong lead over Sanders in Wisconsin’s polls for a while now. FiveThirtyEight predicts that the former vice president has a 90% chance of winning the most votes.

Wisconsin will likely be crucial to the future of Sanders’ campaign. In 2016, Sanders won the state, which has 84 pledged delegates up for grabs.

Wisconsin is also a key battleground state. Trump won the state in the general election in 2016, turning it red for the first time in 30 years.

Besides being an important state in both the primary and general, Wisconsin also has much bigger implications for both parties.

“The state stands as a first test case in what both national parties expect to be a protracted fight over changing voter rules to contend with the pandemic — potentially the biggest voting rights battle since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” the Times explains.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The New York Times) (Fox News)

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Federal Court Throws Out Alabama Congressional Map, Citing Racial Gerrymandering

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The judges ruled that the Republican-held legislature gerrymandered the map so the state only had one Black-majority district despite Black residents composing 27% of the state’s population.


Alabama Ordered to Redraw Map

A panel of federal judges tossed Alabama’s new congressional map on Monday, ruling that the current version significantly weakens the voting power of Black residents.   

In their decision, the three judges noted that while about 27% of Alabamians are Black, the map drawn by the Republican-led legislature after the 2020 census was gerrymandered to leave just one of the state’s seven districts with a Black majority.

“Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect candidates of their choice to Congress,” the judges wrote. “We find that the plaintiffs will suffer an irreparable harm if they must vote in the 2022 congressional elections based on a redistricting plan that violates federal law.”

As a result, the panel also ordered state lawmakers to redraw their map so that it includes “two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.”

The legislature was given 14 days to redo their map before they appoint a special master to do so.

Ongoing Legal Battles

Shortly after the ruling, a spokesperson for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in a statement that his office “strongly disagrees with the court’s decision and will be appealing in the coming days.” 

According to reports, the matter could ultimately go to the Supreme Court, which would decide whether lawmakers can draw maps that are gerrymandered along racial lines.

The high court ruled in 2019 that federal courts do not have the power to block congressional maps that are gerrymandered to skew districts in a partisan manner unless a state’s constitution explicitly prohibits such gerrymandering. The justices did keep parts of the Voting Rights Act that ban racial or ethnic gerrymandering, which the federal panel claimed was the case in Alabama.

Alabama’s congressional map is not the only one drawn by Republicans that has been thrown out in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Ohio’s Supreme Court ordered lawmakers to redraw a map that would have given Republicans 12 congressional seats and Democrats just three despite the fact that recently the GOP has only won about 55% of the popular vote statewide.

The state’s high court ruled that the map clearly violated a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (AL.com)

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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Affirmative Action Cases at Harvard and UNC

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The decision to take up the two cases marks the first time affirmative action will go before the high court’s latest conservative-majority bloc.


SCOTUS Takes on Race-Conscious Admissions, Again

The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will again consider whether race-conscious admissions programs at universities are legal in two cases that could have serious implications for affirmative action.

The two lawsuits center around admissions policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), both of which were brought by the conservative nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions.

The Harvard case started in 2014 with a lawsuit that claimed the school discriminated against Asian American students by effectively creating a quota for their admission. It also alleged the school a subjective standard to measure personality traits like likability, courage, and kindness.

The Ivy League school denied the allegations, claiming the challengers used incorrect statistical analysis and broadly arguing that race-conscious policies are legal.

In the case against UNC, the group alleged that the school discriminated against white and Asian applicants by giving preference to Black, Hispanic, and Native American students.

The university, for its part, argued that its policies create more diversity among its student body, also echoing Harvard’s argument that such rules are legal under decades of Supreme Court precedents.

Past Precedent Up in the Air

Lower courts ruled in favor of both schools, finding they did indeed comply with Supreme Court decisions.

But in taking up these two cases, the high court’s conservative majority will now examine whether race-conscious admissions are legal at all. The move could decide the future of affirmative action and undermine more than four decades of precedent on the use of race in college admissions.

The last two times the high court took up cases regarding affirmative action, the justices upheld the constitutionality of race-conscious programs by slim majorities. Now, those majorities have been replaced by a conservative bloc that includes three justices appointed by former President Donald Trump.

According to reports, the justices will likely hear the cases in October. 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)

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Pelosi Reverses Course, Signals Openness to Stock Trading Ban for Congress

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The move comes as public and bipartisan support for legislation banning Congress members from stock trading has grown in recent weeks.


Pelosi Backtracks on Member Trading

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) on Thursday signaled openness to legislation that would ban members of Congress from trading stocks, reversing her previous position on the matter.

“I do come down always in favor of trusting our members,” Pelosi said at a press conference. “If the impression that is given by some that somebody is doing insider trading, that’s a Justice Department issue and that has no place in any of this.”

“To give a blanket attitude of ‘We can’t do this and we can’t do,’ because we can’t be trusted, I just don’t buy into that. But if members want to do that, I’m okay with that,” she continued.

The speaker’s remarks come as she has faced mounting backlash for voicing opposition to such a ban. 

“We are a free market economy,” she told reporters when asked about the matter last month. “They should be able to participate in that.”

While Pelosi herself does not trade, her husband has invested millions in stocks. Those trades have been made public under the 2012 STOCK Act, which has required Congress members and their spouses to disclose when they buy and sell stocks for the last decade.

But the law has a mixed track record. A recent investigation by Insider found that “dozens of lawmakers and 182 senior congressional staff” have violated the law.

The act also came under intense scrutiny after financial disclosures filed by lawmakers exposed that members of both parties made trades in 2020 that benefited their portfolios after receiving early briefings on the seriousness of the pandemic. 

The Justice Department reviewed some of the cases, but it ultimately did not bring any charges. 

Momentum Grows for Congressional Ban

In recent weeks, pressure to reform the STOCK Act has been growing both among the public and in Congress.

Proponents argue that Congress members should be banned from trading stocks altogether to ensure they do not have conflicts of interest or use their access to classified briefings to make money.

According to a new poll from the progressive firm Data for Progress, 67% of voters support a ban. That number rose to 74% when the respondents were given arguments both for and against the idea.

In Congress, there is widespread bipartisan support for legislation to impose stricter regulations, including among top leadership.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) has reportedly said he is considering banning members from trading if Republicans win control of the House and select him as Speaker in 2022.

“I cannot imagine being a Speaker of the House with the power of what can come before committee, you name them and what can come to the floor and trading millions of dollars worth of options,” he told NPR earlier this month. “I just don’t think the American people think that’s right.”

Members of both parties have already put forth proposals. Last week, Sens. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) and Mark Kelly (D-Az.) introduced legislation that would effectively ban lawmakers, as well as their spouses and dependents, from buying and selling stocks.

The same day, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) rolled out a very similar bill, though his version would not include dependents.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Hill) (Business Insider)

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