Jess Bravin for the WSJ:
If the coronavirus is pitting nervous voters against state election officials, don’t expect the federal courts to solve their problem.
That is the message from a string of Supreme Court orders since April, which saw the conservative majority overturn lower court directives to extend balloting or take other measures because of the pandemic.
The latest case came from Idaho, where over the state’s objection, a federal-district court ordered extra time for a citizen initiative to qualify for the ballot and authorized voters to use digital signatures. Advocates of the initiative argued a stay-at-home order and other public-health measures had essentially made it impossible to use the normal signature-gathering processes.
State officials asked the Supreme Court to block those orders while it appealed, and on Thursday the justices agreed in an emergency order.
“This is not a case about the right to vote, but about how items are placed on the ballot in the first place. Nothing in the Constitution requires Idaho or any other State to provide for ballot initiatives,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in an opinion accompanying the unsigned order, joined by fellow conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Even if there were constitutional concerns, he continued, the state’s “reasonable, nondiscretionary restrictions” on gathering signatures “are almost certainly justified by the important regulatory interests in combating fraud and ensuring that ballots are not cluttered with initiatives that have not demonstrated sufficient grass roots support.”
Liberal dissenters said the court’s intervention effectively “dooms” the initiative. Sponsored by the Reclaim Idaho organization, the Invest in Idaho initiative would raise individual and corporate income taxes to fund public education and juvenile probation services.
“The stay granted today puts a halt to their signature-collection efforts, meaning that even if [initiative advocates] ultimately prevail on appeal, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to collect enough qualifying signatures by any reasonable deadline for the November ballot,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
You can find the Chief Justice’s concurring opinion and Justice Sotomayor’s dissent from Thursday at this link.