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U.S. Supreme Court restores normal Alabama election laws ahead of July 14 runoff

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday evening moved to block an appointee of former President Barack Obama from making last-minute changes to Alabama election laws ahead of the state’s July 14 primary runoff.

As previously reported by Yellowhammer News, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Alabama Abdul K. Kallon issued a memorandum opinion striking down certain absentee balloting requirements for the runoff. Not only did he strike down the requirements only for certain demographics, but that aspect of the order only affects three of Alabama’s 67 counties: Jefferson, Mobile and Lee. The relevant requirements are viewed by many as safeguards against voter fraud.

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, as the chief elections official in the state, was named as the lead defendant in the case. He told Yellowhammer News that the Alabama Attorney General’s Office, on behalf of the State and the rest of the defendants in the case, would appeal Kallon’s order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.

The AG’s office did indeed appeal and also asked the 11th Circuit for a stay of Kallon’s order with the runoff quickly approaching.

Last week, it was announced that a panel of three judges from the 11th Circuit denied the request for a stay.

The attorney general’s office then took the same request to the Supreme Court, directly petitioning Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

On Thursday, SCOTUS granted a stay, which blocks Kallon’s order from taking effect at least for the near future. Democrat-appointed Associate Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

The case itself is still pending before the 11th Circuit on appeal. The stay granted by the Supreme Court will be in effect “pending disposition of the appeal [in the 11th Circuit].”

Additionally, should the losing side of that disposition subsequently attempt to take the appeal to the Supreme Court, the stay shall still remain in effect pending “disposition of the petition for a writ of certiorari, if such writ is timely sought.”

“Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court,” the Supreme Court concluded on Thursday.

Merrill celebrated the stay being granted in a statement to Yellowhammer News.

“With the news that we have received a Stay in this process, I am excited that the United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of those who believe in strict interpretation of the Constitution and has decided to grant the Stay and not endorse legislating from the bench,” the secretary of state said.

UPDATE 10:15 p.m.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall released a statement on the Supreme Court granting the State a stay.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court acted quickly to grant the State’s emergency stay request so that Alabama’s absentee voting laws remains in effect for the upcoming July [14], 2020 run-off election,” Marshall said. “Alabama is again able to enforce laws that help ensure the fairness and integrity of our elections.”

“As we argued in our stay request to the Supreme Court, the district court’s injunction undermined confidence in the ongoing election by altering the anti-fraud provisions related to absentee voting,” he concluded. “Though Alabama has undertaken extraordinary measures to ensure the safety of voters during the pandemic, including making absentee voting available to every eligible voter for the upcoming runoff and giving voters more than three additional months to obtain their ballots, plaintiffs sought more by demanding that the photo ID and witness requirements be shelved for the pandemic. But the Supreme Court has previously recognized the importance of ‘safeguards … to deter and detect fraud and to confirm the identity of voters.’ And the Court has cautioned lowered courts against altering election laws on the eve of an election. We made this case to the Court, and we are gratified that the Court agreed to our request for the stay.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn