“John Roberts put the country before politics”

That’s the title CNN put on my piece on the Supreme Court’s decision in the PA case. I’ll keep the excerpt short, since most readers here will already understand much of the background:

In the most important pre-election case this year, Chief Justice John Roberts once again appears to have decided that, for the Supreme Court, discretion is the better part of valor.After sitting for a remarkable several weeks on a Pennsylvania election-law case — the longest the Court has taken with any election case this year — the Court in the end chose to say nothing at all. Instead, it simply released a 4-4 order rejecting the Republican Party’s effort to overturn a decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a decision that permits absentee ballots to be counted even if received three days after Election Day. . . .

In a 5-4 decision that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote five years ago, the Court held that “legislature” means the general lawmaking process of a state. That meant a state can give voters the power to regulate national elections. But who wrote the impassioned, vehement, lengthy dissent for four Justices, arguing that “legislature” means just the institution? Roberts.

That is why he almost certainly believes, as a matter of first principle, that “legislature” means the institution, nothing more. And that belief would have led him to a 5-3 decision blocking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision and re-imposing the legislature’s election night deadline for absentee ballots.

But a 5-3 decision doing that would have led Biden supporters to believe the conservative majority was aligning with the Republican Party, for partisan reasons, in favor of restrictive absentee ballot rules — in a critical swing state like Pennsylvania. On top of that, the Court might well have felt obligated to explain its reasons for such a significant action. That would have required the Court to resolve the meaning of “legislature,” with all the implications doing so would entail.In suppressing his almost certain view about the proper meaning of the Constitution, Roberts chose to let these issues, like sleeping dogs, lie — at least for now. A 4-4 decision says nothing. It settles nothing. Surely a tough vote for the Chief Justice, but exactly the right call, on the eve of an election that is roiling the country like few others.

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