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Supreme Court rejects universal vote-by-mail in Texas

A man bikes past the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, June 25, 2020.

Al Drago | Reuters

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected an effort by Texas Democrats to allow all voters in the state to vote by mail during its July runoff elections and the November presidential contest as a precaution against the spreading coronavirus pandemic.  

The decision was announced in an order with no noted dissents.

The Texas Democratic Party had asked the court to expand the state’s vote-by-mail procedures to allow voters “to exercise that fundamental right in the midst of a global pandemic which grows worse by the day in Texas, without risk to their health and—without hyperbole—to their lives.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, asked the Supreme Court to reject the Democrats’ request. 

“There is no constitutional right to vote by mail,” Texas Solicitor General Kyle Hawkins told the justices in a brief.

Texas allows no-excuse mail-in voting only for those 65 and older. 

A federal district court sided with the Democrats in late May and held that all Texas voters were eligible to apply to vote by mail, but that decision was quickly put on hold by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pending further consideration.

The Supreme Court declined to disturb the 5th Circuit’s order, leaving it in place. 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in a statement on Friday that she did not disagree with the move, though she expressed hope that the 5th Circuit “will consider the merits of the legal issues in this case well in advance of the November election.” 

Sotomayor said the Democrats’ case “raises weighty but seemingly novel questions regarding the 26th Amendment.”

The 26th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits states from denying the right to vote to any U.S. citizen 18 and older. 

Texas rolled back its reopening on Friday as Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the state, with Abbott ordering bars and similar establishments to close by noon.

On Thursday, the state reported a 79% increase in its weekly average of Covid-19 cases. The state averaged 4,757 new cases per day, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

The Texas dispute is not the first in which the Supreme Court has weighed in on voting in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis.

In April, the top court sided with Wisconsin Republicans, and shortened the time frame for voters in the state to send out their absentee ballots in elections being carried out that month. That case was decided along partisan lines, with the court’s four Democratic appointees dissenting. 

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