Supreme Court Makes Urgent Ruling Before Elections

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The Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has intervened in a controversial Georgia voting rights case. Black voters are challenging new election rules for the state’s Public Service Commission, claiming it dilutes their power as a voting bloc. The state is appealing an initial decision, and now the elections have been put on hold until that appeal is decided.

Complex Voting Process

The stakes in this case involve the election of two members of Georgia’s Public Service Commission (PSC), which oversees utility companies in the state. There are five commissioners elected for staggered six-year terms, and two of them are up for election in November.

The problem is with the voting system used in commission elections. Each commissioner represents one of five districts and must live in it, but they’re elected by a statewide ballot — the “at large” electoral system — which means every Georgia voter can help choose every commissioner in a partisan election. In July 2020, four black Georgians challenged this system in court, claiming it dilutes the voting power of the state’s black population. As evidence, they cited the fact that 30% of Georgia voters are black, but the PSC has only had one black commissioner since 1906.

On August 5, 2020, a US district court upheld the challenge and forbid Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger from using the at-large system in this November’s elections. A week later, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit struck down that ban, allowing the elections to go ahead.

Now, the SCOTUS has issued an emergency ruling that confirms the initial decision. The order, dated August 19, says the Eleventh Circuit Court failed to properly analyze the original ruling. Now, the PSC elections can’t go ahead until the state’s appeal has been concluded. However, the SCOTUS did say the appeals court can review the case and rule again, as long as it uses the proper procedures.

What Does It Mean?

Although this case is specific to Georgia’s PSC elections, many people will be watching any SCOTUS ruling on elections very closely. Right now, states are going through the redistricting process to bring the distribution of House seats into line with the latest census. Several redistricting decisions could end up in front of the high court. For example, the Ohio Supreme Court has already rejected a Republican district map for the state, ruling that it’s gerrymandered; that case might go to the SCOTUS.

Many Democrats fear that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court will judge redistricting cases on partisan lines, giving the GOP an advantage. It’s already upheld a Republican-drawn redistricting map for Louisiana, which was challenged by Democrats. However, the latest ruling from Georgia shows the SCOTUS will judge election-related cases on what’s right, not on what benefits either Party.

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