Updated Oct 20, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court denies Pennsylvania GOP request to limit mail-in voting

Supreme Court protesters
Protesters outside Supreme Court. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Monday denied a request from Pennsylvania's Republican Party to shorten the deadlines for mail-in ballots in the state. Thanks to the court's 4-4 deadlock, ballots can be counted for several days after Election Day.

Why it matters: It's a major win for Democrats that could decide the fate of thousands of ballots in a crucial swing state that President Trump won in 2016. The court's decision may signal how it would deal with similar election-related litigation in other states.

The state of play: A Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision moved the deadline for absentee ballots to be counted from 8 p.m. on Election Day to 5 p.m. the following Friday, Nov. 6. If the U.S. Supreme Court had granted a stay, it would have resulted in a return to the original deadline.

The big picture: The deadlock underscores the importance for Republicans of confirming Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, who the president himself has said could be a deciding vote in an election-related dispute.

  • Chief Justice John Roberts joined liberal justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer in denying the application.
  • Conservative justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch said they would have granted the application.
  • When the court is deadlocked, the decision from the lower court remains in place without setting a precedent for future cases.

What they're saying: Republican National Committee national press secretary Mandi Merritt said in a statement, "We are disappointed that the court declined to confront the important issues raised in our motion. The Constitution delegates these issues to elected state legislatures rather than judges for a reason."

  • Marc Elias, a top Democratic elections lawyer, said in a statement, "This is what we mean when we say Democracy is on the Docket."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with reaction to the ruling.

Go deeper