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U.S. Supreme Court Delays Early Voting in Ohio

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 30, 2014 9:17 AM

A divided U.S. Supreme Court has blocked early voting from beginning today in Ohio, with opponents worried that minority voters will be the ones to suffer.

In a 5-4 decision, the High Court granted Ohio's request to stay an earlier ruling by a lower federal court which is pending appeal, reports USA Today. Grants to stay lower rulings from the Supreme Court don't typically have much detail, but this one-page ruling did indicate that four of the nine justices opposed it.

What are the effects of this early voting stay?

Fight Continues for Early Voting

This isn't the first time that early voting has become the centerpiece for legal struggle in Ohio; the battle has been raging for years now. In its most recent incarnation, the ACLU filed suit in May on behalf of the NAACP and the League of Women Voters of Ohio (among others) challenging SB 238, which would eliminate voting on Sundays and evenings.

Plaintiffs argued that this law would eliminate times in which low-income voters choose to vote, as they cannot usually find time to take off work during the day or week. A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction on SB 238 in early September, effectively freezing the effect of the law and allowing the more convenient voting times to remain open. Judge Peter C. Economus based his ruling on the law's potential to deny minority voters equal protection of the laws, and he found that Ohio's justification (preventing voter fraud) was "hollow" in light of the facts.

Ohio appealed the decision to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which declined to stay Judge Economus' ruling, essentially on the grounds that they believed that the plaintiffs were going to win. Without any strong legal arguments on the side of the law not violating voting rights, the case seemed pretty one-sided.

High Court Was Last Chance to Stay Decision

It was a long shot, but Ohio only had one higher court to appeal the decision to -- the U.S. Supreme Court. The nation's highest court has actually issued a few last-minute stays in the last year, but they've mostly dealt with gay marriage, not voting rights. As in those cases, Monday's stay is only in place as long as the case is pending appeal; once the case is decided or the High Court declines to hear it, Judge Economus' ruling will go back into effect.

Unfortunately for some voters in Ohio, that may not happen in time for November's election, meaning the restricted times may leave many potential voters out of the democratic process.

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