© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A polling officer places postal ballot papers in a voting box in a drive through at the Registrar of Voters for San Diego County in San Diego, California
By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley
(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court dealt setbacks for Republicans on Wednesday by allowing extended deadlines for receiving postal ballot papers in next Tuesday's Pennsylvania and North Carolina elections, which are crucial to President Donald Trump's chances of reelection Meaning are.
The judges' action – with her new colleague Amy Coney Barrett on the sidelines – means a Sept. 17, Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that counts postal ballots postmarked by election day and received up to three days later stay in place for the time being.
The Supreme Court had already denied an earlier Republican motion to freeze the lower court judgment on October 19. This time around, the judges decided not to rush their review of an appeal against the Pennsylvania Republican State Court's verdict for hearing and decide the case before the election.
The Conservative Majority Court on Wednesday also denied a motion from Trump's campaign to block North Carolina's extension of the deadline for receiving postal ballots. This is another major loss of rights for Republicans on the battlefield.
Pennsylvania is fiercely contested by Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden. Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 but is now behind Biden in many opinion polls.
Barrett, a Trump appointee who joined the court on Tuesday, did not participate in Wednesday's decisions. She didn't have time to fully review the records on the cases, a court spokeswoman said in a statement.
Judge Samuel Alito, along with Conservative colleagues Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, said in a written statement that it was "very likely" that the Pennsylvania Court's decision was in violation of the US Constitution and should be reviewed before the election.
"But I grudgingly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late stage to decide the question before the election," Alito wrote.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, issued a statement calling on voters to post postal ballot papers at drop boxes or county polling offices in an attempt to "avert further anticipated legal challenges."
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and various Democratic officials and candidates who had asked the court to protect voting rights during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Democrats in the case also raised concerns about whether the U.S. Postal Service, led by an ally of Trump's, would be able to handle the surge in ballots in a timely manner.
On Monday, Conservative justices were in the majority when the Supreme Court rejected by 5-3 votes to extend the mail-in voting deadlines requested by the Wisconsin Democrats.
The Conservative justices said they did not consider the matter closed in Pennsylvania.
They said the case could still be reviewed and decided relatively quickly. Pennsylvania officials have stated that ballot papers received after election day will be kept separate from other ballot papers "so that targeted remedies will be available if the Supreme Court decision is ultimately overturned," Alito wrote.
Trump's Republicans in many states have spoken out against measures to facilitate voting during the coronavirus pandemic. The public health crisis has resulted in an increase in postal ballot requests as voters try to avoid crowds at polling stations.
In her earlier decision, the judges, who were understaffed after the death of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, were split 4: 4, with the state court decision remaining in place. Chief Justice John Roberts, along with the three Liberal judges, denied the motion.
Trump has attacked the integrity of the mail-in voting, a regular part of the American election.