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Justices Reinstate Idaho Initiative Limits Amid Covid Concerns

July 30, 2020, 10:10 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court nullified a lower court order loosening Idaho’s state ballot initiative requirements that were intended to ease the effects of coronavirus on the upcoming election.

The justices on Thursday reinstated Idaho’s deadline for gathering signatures for ballot measures, in the presumably 7-2 ruling. It also prohibited the group behind the initiative, Reclaim Idaho, from collecting the signatures electronically, as the lower court had required.

The ruling in the Idaho case keeps the state’s procedures in place while the litigation works its way through the courts. Similar challenges out of Oregon and Ohio are also pending before the justices.

Such extraordinary action by the court is warranted “in light of the transformative and intrusive nature of this preliminary injunction,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a concurring opinion. “Right now, the preliminary injunction disables Idaho from vindicating its sovereign interest in the enforcement of initiative requirements that are likely consistent with the First Amendment.”

Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh joined the chief justice’s opinion.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan didn’t join Roberts. But they also didn’t note their disagreement with the decision, something justices aren’t required to do in cases seeking only emergency relief, rather than a decision on the merits.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, did dissent from the court’s order.

“Yet again, this Court intervenes to grant a stay pending appeal, in this case less than two weeks before the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is poised to hear an expedited appeal on a preliminary injunction entered by the District Court,” Sotomayor wrote.

On the eve of Wisconsin’s April 7 election, the justices similarly rejected a lower court order extending the deadline to vote by mail.

“Today, by jumping ahead of the Court of Appeals, this Court once again forgets that it is ‘a court of review, not of first view,’” Sotomayor wrote.

The ruling likely derails Reclaim Idaho’s push to get its school funding measure on the 2020 ballot, she said. The initiatives in Oregon and Ohio involve redistricting and decriminalizing marijuana.

The Idaho case is Little v. Reclaim Idaho, U.S., No. 20A18, 7/30/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at krobinson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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