Racing against the clock, the Supreme Court on Monday denied a last-minute request to restore a sweeping court order that might have kept the Donald Trump campaign from mobilizing poll-watching efforts in Ohio. Democrats argued that those efforts could intimidate and disenfranchise minority voters.
The one-page order didn’t include any reasoning or identify the justices who voted down the request. But the court is often reluctant to intervene so close to an election. The justices traditionally want to avoid confusing voters or poll workers ― a concern particularly relevant in the many states, like Ohio, where people have already voted early.
In an unusual statement, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg broke from her colleagues’ silence and explained her vote ― possibly to head off criticism that she didn’t recuse herself from the case after her controversial comments about Trump over the summer.
“Mindful that Ohio law proscribes voter intimidation ... I vote to deny the application,” Ginsburg wrote.
Lawyers for the Ohio Democratic Party filed the request with the Supreme Court late Sunday night, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit sided with the Trump campaign and put on hold a broad set of prohibitions that essentially would have shut down any attempts by Trump allies to monitor polling places.
Although poll watching is not illegal, voter intimidation is. In a series of quick-moving lawsuits last week, state Democratic parties in several states argued that the Trump campaign, state Republican parties and controversial Trump adviser Roger Stone were crossing the line into illegal voter intimidation.
After losing the first round in Ohio on Friday, the Trump campaign’s legal team cried foul before the 6th Circuit, contending that Democrats didn’t have evidence of actual voter intimidation and were relying solely on campaign statements and heated rhetoric to make their case.
In-person voter fraud, in truth, is virtually nonexistent. But Trump has repeatedly called on his supporters to monitor “certain areas,” suggesting that Democratic sympathizers might vote several times and steal the election from him. Stone, for his part, has been actively engaged with the group Stop the Steal, which is also named in the Ohio lawsuit as a recruitment initiative that may lead to voter intimidation.
The Supreme Court didn’t express any views on the merits of these allegations in Ohio.
Besides the proximity to Election Day, it’s also likely the justices didn’t second-guess the appeals court because the case directly implicates the Trump campaign. The justices may have wished to avoid a ruling that might be seen as siding with one candidate ― although pundits will undoubtedly read its lack of action as doing just that.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is merely the latest legal setback that Democrats have faced in battleground states in their efforts to counteract Trump’s talk of vote rigging. State Democratic parties filed similar lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina and Michigan, but those cases either are still pending or resulted in adverse rulings.
In a related development Saturday, a federal judge in New Jersey declined to impose sanctions on the Republican National Committee over alleged violations of a 1982 consent decree, which has kept the GOP under court supervision for organizing so-called ballot security measures in urban areas. But the judge left the door open for the Democratic National Committee to come back after the election and submit evidence of illicit activity from around the country ― and based on that, argue for an extension of the consent decree.