Final update 11:41 am

The Supreme Court on Monday turned down a plea by the national Republican Party to free it from a three-decades-old court order that limits its right to challenge voters’ qualifications.   The Republican National Committee had argued that it has obeyed the order diligently and thus it should be lifted; the Democratic National Committee said that violations continue.  The case was Republican National Committee v. Democratic National Committee (12-373).   The Justices offered no explanation, as usual, for denying review. The order list is here.

Among other orders, the Court invited the U.S. Solicitor General to offer the federal government’s views on two issues: the legality of an agreement between a company and a union to a neutrality pact that allows the union to organize the workers in return for a promise of labor peace, and the scope of a ban on asbestos claims during a bankruptcy proceeding.  After the Solicitor General responds, the Court will decide whether to hear these cases.   The labor issue arises in two cases: UNITE here Local 355 v. Mulhall (12-99) and Mulhall v. UNITE Here Local 355 (12-312).  The asbestos issue comes up in the case of Pfizer Inc., v. Angelos Law Firm (12-300).

Among other cases the Court refused to hear was an attempt by the governor of Rhode Island to justify a refusal to hand over a state inmate for federal prosecution, because the state opposes capital punishment that may be imposed in the case.  That question arose in Chafee v. United States (12-223) and Pleau v. United States (12-230).  [Disclosure:  Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys work for or contribute to this blog in various capacities, is among the co-counsel to the petitioner in Pleau.]  The Court also refused to sort out the competing rights of two inventors who had contributed to a new creation (W.L. Gore & Associates, Inc., v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 12-458).  Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., took no part in the action.

In turning aside a plea by the Republican National Committee, the Court left the GOP at the national level under the continuing effect of a 1982 order by a federal judge in Newark, N.J., that limits what it can do to set up so-called “ballot security” projects.  Those are efforts to make sure that those who go to the polls actually are entitled to vote.   In the latest round of court proceedings on that order, the Newark judge not only refused to erase the order, but actually extended it through December 2017.

The dispute between the national GOP and the national Democratic Party began in 1981, when the GOP set up, along with its state committee, a task force using off-duty police officers and others to visit precincts on election day to engage in poll-watching.   Democrats charged that the project went beyond mere poll-watching, and was actually aimed at predominantly black and Hispanic precincts, in an attempt to intimate minority voters from casting their ballots.  The suit led to a consent decree that barred the GOP from engaging in projects that went beyond mere poll-watching.   It required the Republicans to ask for clearance from the Newark judge before implementing any such program.  As matters have turned out, the GOP has never asked for such clearance.

In moving to have the decree vacated, the RNC contended that the only basis for continuing it in effect was an incident in Ohio in the 2004 election campaign that supposedly aimed at challenging some 35,000 voters, including black voters.  That incident, the GOP argued, became moot later in court, so it should not have remained a basis for keeping the decree intact.  The Newark judge, though, said he was entitled to rely upon the facts in that incident, even though the legal dispute over it had become moot.

In opposing Supreme Court review, the Democratic National Committee argued that the GOP was given a full opportunity to convince the judge that the decree was no longer needed, and failed to do so.

The decree binds only the national party, and not its state affiliates, who remain free to fashion their own “ballot security” programs.   Some of the state GOP projects became the center of controversy during the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.   Those were not mentioned in the filings in the RNC case at the Supreme Court.

Posted in Everything Else

Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, GOP ballot challenge request denied (UPDATED), SCOTUSblog (Jan. 14, 2013, 9:33 AM),