Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s attempt to abolish early voting in his important swing state for all but the GOP-leaning military is over, after the Supreme Court today declined to hear his appeal of an adverse lower court ruling.
The campaign of President Barack Obama and Democrats had sued over the Republican secretary of state’s attempt to restrict three-days of pre-election day early voting to the military and Ohioans living overseas. An appeals court had earlier sided with the Democrats, who had questioned the constitutionality of creating a special class of voters.
Limiting early voting for all Ohioans would have dealt a blow to Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts, which often require organizing drivers to get elderly voters and those without transportation to the polls. Logistically, those extra days are crucial for Democratic plans.
We’re interested in the ruling for what it indicates about Chief Justice John Roberts‘ apparent commitment to making the court less partisan, and in the process restoring its damaged reputation. Our democracy works when everyone plays by the same set of rules. In that manner, outcomes can’t be challenged as illegitimate, and the country’s civil life is strengthened, regardless of who wins an election.
The Republican Party has achieved certain short-term advantages in stretching the rules over the years, not just on voting rights but in other areas of public life. The 2003 House vote to expand Medicare comes to mind. Had the vote closed in regular course, after the usual 20 minutes or so, the GOP might have been spared being tarred as hypocritical on government spending. Instead, Republican leaders doing the bidding of the George W. Bush White House held the vote open an extraordinary three hours as they twisted arms of rank-and-file members reluctant to abandon their principles against expanding entitlement spending.
More recently, on voting rights, there is no explanation other than a cynical disregard for the rules in the Republican National Committee’s hiring of previously disgraced operative Nathan Sproul to conduct voter registration drives in swing states. Sproul’s operation is alleged to have torn up the forms of Democrats or refused to have registered them. This, after all the Republican complaints about voter fraud?
Back to the court.
After Roberts went all-in by voting with the court’s liberals to uphold the Affordable Care Act, enraging conservatives, why would he backtrack now? Roberts’ has already fallen on his sword for the greater good of upholding respect for an important institution in American life.
There was no reason for the court to hear the Ohio appeal. There weren’t conflicting rulings among district courts to resolve, the usual reason for the court to get involved. Reversing the appeals court would have been seen by Democrats as a blatant attempt to insert the highest court in the land into the presidential election process. It already pushed the limits in 2000’s Bush v. Gore, a decision that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has cited as a likely reason why polls have shown respect for the court diminishing.