Supreme Court issues rare emergency order favoring voters who challenge election rules

The move was a rare example of the conservative court siding with voters over state officials in electoral rule disputes, especially when the court is asked to intervene in emergencies.

The Supreme Court reversed a district court ruling demanding that this year’s election for two of the commission seats be postponed so that the legislature could create a new system for electing commissioners.
The unsigned Supreme Court order left the door open for state Republican officials to try again to revive Georgia’s election committee rules ahead of November’s election. However, Georgia indicated in a lawsuit later Friday that it would not ask the appeals court again to suspend the trial judge’s order before the November election while the appeals on the grounds had played out.

Nico Martinez, a partner at Bartlit Beck LLP who represented the challengers, said the Supreme Court order was an “important step to ensure that November’s PSC elections are not held by a method that would distort the votes of millions of black citizens.” in Georgia unlawfully diluted.”

“We look forward to presenting the merits of our case on appeal and are confident that the well-motivated decision of the court will eventually be upheld,” Martinez said in a statement.

The commission is Georgia’s regulator for investor-owned utilities, such as power plants and telecommunications. One of his duties is to set rates for residential, commercial and industrial utilities.

Each of the five commission seats is assigned a specific district where the commissioner must reside, but the commissioners themselves are elected in national elections on a staggered six-year calendar.

The district court ruled that the general system of electing committee members diluted black political power in violation of the federal voting rights law.

But the judge’s ruling was subsequently put on hold by the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, prompting voters to seek Supreme Court intervention this week.

Arguments in the appeal centered in part on the so-called Purcell principle, which discourages federal court action that would disrupt election planning close to an election.

The Supreme Court said the 11th Circuit should not have used the principle to justify the judge’s cessation of order. Voters challenging the election rules had pointed out that officials in Georgia said the principle would not apply if they appealed a ruling against the current electoral system before the committee.

The Supreme Court order comes after a series of cases in which the judges collapsed along ideological lines over whether lower court rulings in favor of voting lawyers should be postponed due to upcoming elections.

In rescheduling cases from Alabama and Louisiana, the conservative majority reversed lower court rulings that had demanded that cards deemed illegal be redrawn before November’s election. (The Supreme Court declined to overturn certain rulings in which a state supreme court, rather than federal courts, had ordered the cards to be redrawn).

Similarly, during the 2020 election, the Supreme Court has put several lower court rulings on hold that would have made voting easier during the pandemic.

Many of those injunctions were issued without explanation from the majority, but on a few occasions conservative judges have written to emphasize that their moves were motivated by adherence to the Purcell principle.

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