Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismisses challenge to mail-in ballot procedures, vacates halt to certification
“Petitioners failed to act with due diligence in presenting the instant claim. Equally clear is the substantial prejudice arising from Petitioners’ failure to institute promptly a facial challenge to the mail-in voting statutory scheme, as such inaction would result in the disenfranchisement of millions of Pennsylvania voters.
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As we covered yesterday, a state court judge in Pennsylvania upheld her prior halt to certification of the vote, finding a likelihood that the mail-in ballot procedure violated the state constitution.
I predicted the injunction would not survive the PA Supreme Court, and it hasn’t. The PA Supreme Court just issued an Order dismissing the case, and vacating the halt to certification, finding the petitioners waited too long (emphasis in original):
AND NOW, this 28th day of November, 2020, pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S. § 726,1 we GRANT the application for extraordinary jurisdiction filed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Governor Thomas W. Wolf, and Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar (“Commonwealth”), VACATE the Commonwealth Court’s order preliminarily enjoining the Commonwealth from taking any further action regarding the certification of the results of the 2020 General Election, and DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE the petition for review filed by the Honorable Mike Kelly, Sean Parnell, Thomas A. Frank, Nancy Kierzek, Derek Magee, Robin Sauter, and Wanda Logan (“Petitioners”). All other outstanding motions are DISMISSED AS MOOT…..
Upon consideration of the parties’ filings in Commonwealth Court, we hereby dismiss the petition for review with prejudice based upon Petitioners’ failure to file their facial constitutional challenge in a timely manner. Petitioners’ challenge violates the doctrine of laches given their complete failure to act with due diligence in commencing their facial constitutional challenge, which was ascertainable upon Act 77’s enactment. It is well-established that “[l]aches is an equitable doctrine that bars relief when a complaining party is guilty of want of due diligence in failing to promptly institute an action to the prejudice of another.” Stilp v. Hafer, 718 A.2d 290, 292 (Pa. 1998).
The want of due diligence demonstrated in this matter is unmistakable. Petitioners filed this facial challenge to the mail-in voting statutory provisions more than one year after the enactment of Act 77. At the time this action was filed on November 21, 2020, millions of Pennsylvania voters had already expressed their will in both the June 2020 Primary Election and the November 2020 General Election and the final ballots in the 2020 General Election were being tallied, with the results becoming seemingly apparent. Nevertheless, Petitioners waited to commence this litigation until days before the county boards of election were required to certify the election results to the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Thus, it is beyond cavil that Petitioners failed to act with due diligence in presenting the instant claim. Equally clear is the substantial prejudice arising from Petitioners’ failure to institute promptly a facial challenge to the mail-in voting statutory scheme, as such inaction would result in the disenfranchisement of millions of Pennsylvania voters.4
Accordingly, we grant the application for extraordinary jurisdiction, vacate the Commonwealth Court’s order preliminarily enjoining the Commonwealth from taking any further action regarding the certification of the results of the 2020 General Election, and dismiss with prejudice Petitioners’ petition for review. All other outstanding motions are dismissed as moot.
Justice Wecht issued a Concurring opinion:
Petitioners could have brought this action at any time between October 31, 2019, when Governor Wolf signed Act 77 into law, and April 28, 2020, when this Court still retained exclusive jurisdiction over constitutional challenges to it. See Act 77 § 13(2)-(3). The claims then could have been adjudicated finally before the June primary, when no-excuse mail-in voting first took effect under Act 77—and certainly well before the General Election, when millions of Pennsylvania voters requested, received, and returned mail-in ballots for the first time. Petitioners certainly knew all facts relevant to their present claims during that entire period… And yet, Petitioners did nothing.3 …
Having delayed this suit until two elections were conducted under Act 77’s new, no-excuse mail-in voting system, Petitioners— several of whom participated in primary elections under this system without complaint—play a dangerous game at the expense of every Pennsylvania voter. Petitioners waived their opportunity to challenge Act 77 before the election, choosing instead to “lay by and gamble upon receiving a favorable decision of the electorate.” Toney v. White, 488 F.2d 310, 314 (5th Cir. 1973) (en banc). Unsatisfied with the results of that wager, they would now flip over the table, scattering to the shadows the votes of millions of Pennsylvanians. It is not our role to lend legitimacy to such transparent and untimely efforts to subvert the will of Pennsylvania voters.12
Courts should not decide elections when the will of the voters is clear.
Chief Justice Saylor, joined by Justice Mundy, filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, agreeing that it was too late to prevent certification of a completed election based on mail-in procedures the public relied upon, but writing that there is a remaining issue of whether the law is valid moving forward. He also expressed concern about the validity of the law.
I agree with the majority that injunctive relief restraining certification of the votes of Pennsylvanians cast in the 2020 general election should not have been granted and is unavailable in the present circumstances. As the majority relates, there has been too much good-faith reliance, by the electorate, on the no-excuse mail-in voting regime created by Act 77 to warrant judicial consideration of the extreme and untenable remedies proposed by Appellees.1 Accordingly, I join the per curiam Order to the extent that it vacates the preliminary injunction implemented by the Commonwealth Court.2
That said, there is a component of Appellees’ original complaint, filed in the Commonwealth Court, which seeks declaratory relief and is unresolved by the above remedial assessment. Additionally, I find that the relevant substantive challenge raised by Appellees presents troublesome questions about the constitutional validity of the new mail-in voting scheme.
The question on everyone’s mind is whether the U.S. Supreme Court would take the case. My first reaction is that it’s hard to see on what basis SCOTUS would take the case given the nature of the ruling and the posture of the case. Unlike claims of fraud or other problems with voting that violated legislative enactments, here the mail-in provisions of the legislation itself is being challenged. But it is only challenged after the vote has taken place, unlike the late-ballot and other provisions that were challenged in advance, and unlike claims of fraud or miscount.
Two things are possible: The mail-in procedures violated the PA Constitution, and the petitioners waited too long to raise that objection. As I’ve written many times, one of the Republican legal problems in these litigations is what the remedy would be. Throwing the case to the legislature based on the mail-in procedure after the vote is asking alot, perhaps too much.
In this circumstance, I think it will be hard for the petitioners to get four SCOTUS judges to hear the case, much less five to reverse. Maybe I’ll be surprised, but that’s my initial reaction.
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The court ruled too much time had passed.
But, doesn’t one have to be able to prove damages?
If there were no damages, there wouldn’t be a case?
And the damages were not done in a timely manner…
My recollection is that as soon as the notion of mass-mailed absentee ballots was floated, Mr. Trump immediately called it out as a scheme to enable cheating. He didn’t file a legal challenge at that time? OUCH!
On the other hand, I recall another case where a legal challenge was indeed mounted to prevent the mass-mailings. In that case the judge dismissed it since the plaintiff had not shown that he was harmed by it. I don’t recall what state that was and I would appreciate if someone could post links to information on that case. If it *was* PA, then the court system itself had prevented timely legal challenge. Which would not be a surprise here.
We are in banana-republicdom. Anyone wanna move to Hungary?
Pennsylvania voters had to apply to vote absentee or by mail. They didn’t do mass mailings in PA.
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