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Pennsylvania election officials ask Amy Coney Barrett to recuse herself from mail-in ballots case

President and Republicans have sought high court decision to halt vote-by-mail efforts in key battleground state

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 28 October 2020 00:36 GMT
Amy Coney Barrett sworn in as Supreme Court justice

Attorneys for election officials in Pennsylvania have asked incoming US Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to recuse herself from a case involving the state’s mail-in ballot efforts, as Donald Trump’s recently confirmed justice ensures a conservative majority that could roll back voting efforts days before Election Day.

Pennsylvania Republicans have asked the high court to reverse a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed voting officials to extend the deadline to accept mail-in ballots from 3 November to 6 November, amid concerns over mail delays with a beleaguered US Postal Service.

In its recusal motion to the high court, attorneys representing the Luzerne County Board of Elections said the “recusal is compelled since Justice Barrett’s ‘impartiality might reasonably be questioned’ ... given the circumstances of her nomination and confirmation.”

“The nomination and confirmation of a Supreme Court justice this close to a presidential election is unprecedented,” attorneys said in the motion. “As concerning as that is, what is even more troubling is the language President Trump has used in consideration of this nomination, linking it directly to the electoral season at hand, with implications for his own re-election.”

The latest moves follows last week’s deadlocked Supreme Court decision on Pennsylvania ballots, falling largely on the court’s idealogical lines, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court’s three liberal-leaning justices.

On Monday, as Justice Barrett was confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate, the court ruled to block a Wisconsin ruling that allowed election officials to continue counting mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Election Day on 3 November and received no later than 9 November.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that state courts "do not have a blank check to rewrite state election laws for federal elections” and suggested that “chaos and suspicions of impropriety” would follow if “thousands of absentee ballots flow in after election day and potentially flip the results of an election.”

In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan argued that results don’t “flip” if not all votes are counted.

“Nothing could be more ‘suspicio[us]’ or ‘improp[er]’ than refusing to tally votes once the clock strikes 12 on election night," she wrote.

Minutes after the court’s decision, the president had falsely claimed on Twitter that there are “big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA" and that the US “must have final total on November 3rd."

Luzerne County is among three Pennsylvania counties that the president won in 2016 after Barack Obama carried them in 2012.

Pennsylvania law requires mail-in ballots to be received no later than 8pm on Election Day, but the state Supreme Court allowed ballots to be counted if they are received by mail up to 5pm that Friday if they are postmarked by Election Day or have missing or illegible postmarks.

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