At the shorthanded U.S. Supreme Court, the next deadlock may affect the November election. A group of voting-rights cases is making its way to a court that’s all but guaranteed to have a lingering vacancy through the election. The divisive nature of the issues may leave the eight justices unable to decide who can cast the ballots that will determine control of the White House and Congress. The disputes involve voter-identification requirements in Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin; an early-voting period in Ohio; a variety of restrictions in North Carolina; and proof-of-citizenship laws elsewhere. The cases pit Democrats and civil-rights groups claiming discrimination against Republicans arguing the steps are warranted to prevent voter fraud. “They affect the rights of voters to be able to cast an effective ballot that will be counted accurately,” said Rick Hasen, an election-law professor at the University of California, Irvine.
The eight-member court deadlocked in four cases in its just-completed term. Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, and Senate Republicans have refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the slot.
The vacancy increases the potential for the cases to produce varied outcomes from state to state. A 4-4 Supreme Court split leaves the lower court ruling in place.
The first case to arrive is likely to be the Texas voter-ID fight. The dispute reached the justices two years ago, when a divided Supreme Court rebuffed the Obama administration and let the state enforce the law for the 2014 election.