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Supreme Court Issues Emergency Order Favoring Voters Challenging Elections Rules

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court issued a rare emergency order and sided with voters who challenged Georgia’s system of electing members to the state’s Public Service Commission.

The case began when a group of Black leaders sued the state, claiming the Republican-controlled General Assembly approved a redistricting plan last year that dilutes the Black vote in two of the five PSC districts.

Earlier this month, a judge postponed two November elections in Georgia for the Public Service Commission, ruling the electoral structure disenfranchises Black voters.

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One week after that, an appeals court reversed that decision, pending the state’s appeal of that first ruling.

Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the elections should not proceed while the appeal continues.

The case is being closely watched because the state’s Public Service Commission, among other responsibilities, sets customers’ utility rates and oversees the construction budget of projects.

Under Georgia’s system, commissioners run statewide but must live in one of five districts.

“The move was a rare example of the conservative court siding with voters over state officials in disputes regarding election rules, especially when the court is asked to act on an emergency basis. The Supreme Court restored a district court ruling requiring 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,” CNN reported.

“The unsigned order from the Supreme Court left the door open for the state’s Republican officials to try again to get Georgia’s rules for electing the commission revived for November’s election. However, later Friday, Georgia indicated in a court filing that it would not ask again for the appeals court to halt the trial judge’s order before November’s election while the appeal on the merits played out,” the outlet added.

Nico Martinez, a partner at Bartlit Beck LLP who represented the challengers, said the Supreme Court’s order was an “important step toward ensuring that this November’s PSC elections are not held using a method that unlawfully dilutes the votes of millions of Black citizens in Georgia.”

“We look forward to presenting the merits of our case on appeal and are confident the district court’s well-reasoned decision will ultimately be upheld,” Martinez said in a statement.

The Supreme Court order comes as many states are fighting over new congressional maps before the crucial 2022 and 2024 elections.

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Recently, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 to reject a GOP-drawn map of U.S. House districts as gerrymandered, sending it back to meet constitutional parameters approved by Ohio voters.

However, new maps will not be put in place until 2024.

“The ruling adds to a string of court defeats for Ohio’s ruling Republicans amid the once-per-decade redistricting process that states undertake to reflect population changes from the U.S. Census. Despite those failures in court, however, Ohio’s 2022 congressional primaries went forward on May 3 under an earlier invalidated U.S. House map, and its legislative primaries under an unconstitutional Statehouse map take place Aug. 2,” Politico reported.

“The map created 10 safe Republican seats and five Democratic seats. However, the high court’s majority said the latest map packed Democrats into three congressional districts that would heavily favor a Democratic candidate, while unfairly splitting counties and cities around heavily-Democratic Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Columbus,” Politico added.

As noted by Dave Wasserman, the U.S. House editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, this may not be bad news for Republicans in the short or long term.

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In June, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the Louisiana state legislature by allowing the state’s Republican-drawn congressional map to remain in place.

A federal judge had previously ruled the map violated the Voting Rights Act and ordered lawmakers to redraw the state’s six congressional districts to include two in which Black voters were in the majority.

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In a brief one-page order, the Supreme Court said it would wait until next term to rule on the matter given there’s a similar case from Alabama scheduled to be argued next term, which begins in October.

Prior to that, the Florida Supreme Court delivered a gigantic win to Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the Sunshine State by “rejecting a request for a hearing over the state’s new congressional map that eliminates a majority Black district.”

In early June, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled Republicans’ new redistricting law is legal and will make it more difficult for the only Kansas congressional delegate to win re-election.

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