Supreme Court: Election Litigation That Doesn’t Come Too Early Comes Too Late


A divided Supreme Court ruled today that there is no right time to file a case contending that an election law unconstitutionally violates the right to vote protected by the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.

On a 6-3 vote, the Court in an unsigned (per curiam) opinion explained that lawsuits protecting voting rights cannot be filed well before the election, because in those cases the claims are “unripe” and plaintiffs lack standing due to the speculative nature of such claims. But claims cannot be filed too close to the election, under what has come to be known as the “Purcell Principle,” because changes in election laws close to the election risk confusion of voters and election administrators.

“Although we held in the 1886 case of Yick Wo v. Hopkins that voting rights are fundamental because they are ‘preservative’ of all other rights, that is no excuse to ignore limits on the courts’ jurisdiction to hear only ‘cases and controversies’ and to limit states’ unfettered ability to suppress the vote for political reasons,” the opinion explains.

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