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General question about state supreme court power

Discussion in 'Civil Court, Procedure & Litigation' started by tyis, Nov 10, 2020.

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  1. tyis

    tyis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Hello, I apologize if I didn't put this in the correct section of the forum. I recently saw a post saying that when the governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf passed voter reforms through the state supreme court which allowed people to send in mail in ballots late, the state supreme court actually couldn't do that. Is this true and why don't they have the power to do that?
    I've also recently become interested in law but I am still in high school so I can't major it in college quite yet but if someone could also suggest a good place to start learning that would be great.
     
  2. welkin

    welkin Active Member

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    Your understanding of what happened is not correct. When the Governor (by executive order) changed the election law, it was challenged in court and found to not be constitutional. Changing any law (statute) is up to the legislature not the Governor.

    Courts don't legislate at least they are not supposed to. The courts interpret the laws not make them.
     
  3. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    The Pennsylvania Supreme Court made a ruling that effectively extended the deadline for election officials to receive mailed in absentee ballots. The election law passed by the state legislature required that the ballots must be received by the election officials by election day. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, however, decided that ballots would be timely if postmarked by election day and received within three days after. The Court made that ruling invoking a provision in the state constitution that allows it to act to ensure free and fair elections in a "natural disaster". The disaster in this case being the corona virus pandemic.

    The argument that Republicans made to the US Supreme Court is that the state supreme court lacked the power to make that change because the US Constitution states that the power to set the rules for elections is given to state legislatures and thus cannot be set by the state courts. US Const. Article I, § 4 and Article II, § 1.

    The Supreme Court denied the request of the parties for expedited review of the case based because the Court would not have the time to fully consider the issue before the election. However, the matter is still before the Court and it remains to be seen whether it will indeed side with the Republicans and say that the US Constitution does not allow the state courts to alter the rules for elections set by the legislatures, even in the face of a natural disaster or pandemic.


    If you think you want to get a law degree and become a lawyer you have plenty of time for that. You don't need to take a "pre law" program in college and can major in anything you want. The basic requirements to become a lawyer in pretty much every state is that you have a bachelor's degree (which can be with any major) and then attend an ABA approved law school (though California will allow you to attend a non ABA approved law school — a path I would not generally recommend unless you just can't get into an ABA approved program) and then after graduating from law school you sit for a bar exam and need to pass the fitness review. You'll take the LSAT exam as part of your admission to law school.

    What you do want to do in college is look for courses/majors that emphasize reading comprehension, writing, and logical reasoning skills as those are the three fundamental skills every lawyer needs. If you want to do trial work, some courses or other experience in public speaking/debate would be good. Lots of different courses and majors can be useful. Math and computer science courses, for example, help develop logical reasoning skills. Indeed, many engineering and science areas are good for that. Courses in English and writing composition are obviously useful to develop your reading and writing skills. Any area that requires a lot of reading can help you develop the ability to read quickly and remember what you read. My major was business finance, and many of the courses in that program were helpful in developing skills needed for law.

    You would want to take a major in something you enjoy and that you might like as a fall back career. If you enjoy it, you'll likely get better grades in it and the better grades you get the better law school you'll be able to get accepted into. You also need good scores on the LSAT exam to get into good law school programs. Law schools look at both your undergraduate grades and the LSAT score to determine whom they will admit.
     
    shadowbunny and zddoodah like this.
  4. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    That is not the event to which the OP was referring.
     
  5. tyis

    tyis Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Thank you very much for the detailed reply!
     
  6. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    That is the heart of the issue.
    The Constitution gives the authority to state legislatures to set the rules, and in this case the state rules did allow for special circumstances during a natural disaster. The Supreme Court may have to decide if COVID-19 concerns are an adequate natural disaster, but probably won't intervene. States are responsible for carrying out elections, even for federal offices.
    The argument being made is that the extension for ballots was improperly granted by the court without any specific legislation from the state as specified by the US Constitution- the legislature must set the rules, not the court. However, the legislature had previously provided the natural disaster contingency which is what the court relied on.
    Had there not been a natural disaster contingency in place and the court carved out it's own rules to proceed with the election then there could be a much stronger argument to make.
    To complicate things, at least one PA official commented that all ballots received within the allowed period would be counted, regardless of any postmark, which is outside the bounds of the law. There will likely be no way to go back and verify postmarks on ballots already separated from their envelopes and counted and we will never know how many votes were counted that were not timely or lacked a postmark.
     
  7. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    (Bolding added.) Technically that's not correct. The natural disaster contingency is not part of the election statute set out by the legislature. It is part of the state Constitution adopted by the People of Pennsylvania. So if you literally apply the language of the Constitution (as several members of the Supreme Court say they do) the state court may well have exceeded its power by doing that which only the legislature may do.
     
  8. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    I would expect that any natural disaster provision is something added to the Constitution via the legislature. It doesn't seem like something the people would initiate on their own, or that would have been included in an original draft way back when.
    They will eventually get to the bottom of it, but even if they do it won't help with the vote count.
     
  9. flyingron

    flyingron Well-Known Member

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    Yep, the elections board says the number of contested ballots is less than 20% of the Biden victory margin.
     
  10. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    Are you supposing that the Pennsylvania Legislature has the power to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution all by itself? It doesn't.
     
  11. mightymoose

    mightymoose Moderator

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    No, but the language in question likely originated there before being amended.
     
  12. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    The provision invoked by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was part of the Constitution adopted in 1874 by a vote of the people of Pennsylvania and retained when Pennsylvania updated and reorganized the Constitution in 1968. While the updated 1968 Constitution was originally drafted by the legislature, the Constitution in its entirety had to be ratified by the people. But while the 1968 Constitutional vote was initiated by the legislature, it was enacted by the People. That is the key to the Republican argument. The rule invoked by the Supreme Court was was not enacted by the legislature. The U.S. Constitution, read literally, requires the state legislature to enact the election rules, not the People. I think the argument can be made that the reference to the legislature in the federal constitution was meant only to say that the states have the power to decide the election rules for federal offices and not the federal government and not to limit the method by which the state decides to enact those rules, i.e. an act of the legislature versus the people adopting rules in the state Constitution. But until the Supreme Court provides its interpretation of it, it remains a possibility the Court could say it must indeed be done by the legislature and only the legislature.
     

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