WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said on Friday that it would not require Texas to let all eligible voters vote by mail.
The Texas Democratic Party and several voters had urged the court to reinstate a federal trial judge’s injunction requiring state officials to allow all voters, and not just those who are 65 or older, to submit their ballots by mail. They relied on the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 and said the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of age.”
The court’s brief order gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices rule on emergency applications, and there were no noted dissents. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a statement saying that the question in the case raised “weighty but seemingly novel questions regarding the 26th Amendment.”
But she said the court was right not to address those questions in the context of an emergency application. “I hope,” she wrote, “that the court of appeals will consider the merits of the legal issues in this case well in advance of the November election.”
Voting by mail has been the focus of debate and litigation in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Five states will conduct the general election in November entirely by mail, and many others will allow all eligible voters to vote by mail.
Texas, on the other hand, generally requires voters to appear in person, but it makes exceptions for those away from home or in jail, those with disabilities and those who are 65 or older.
In May, Judge Fred Biery, of the Federal District Court in San Antonio, ruled that “any eligible Texas voter who seeks to vote by mail in order to avoid transmission of Covid-19 can apply for, receive and cast an absentee ballot in upcoming elections during the pendency of pandemic circumstances.”
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, blocked the injunction while an appeal moved forward, saying Judge Biery’s ruling “will be remembered more for audacity than legal reasoning.”
In a concurring opinion, Judge James C. Ho wrote that the 26th Amendment tracks the language of the 15th Amendment, which forbids discrimination in voting “on account of race,” adding that “it would presumably run afoul of the Constitution to allow only voters of a particular race to vote by mail.”
Still, Judge Ho wrote, even if the same reasoning applied to age discrimination in voting, it was not clear what the court should do about the Texas law. “Do we ‘level up’ (everyone gets to vote by mail) or ‘level down’ (no one gets to)?” he asked.
Since the answer was unclear, he wrote, a stay of Judge Biery’s injunction was warranted.
The plaintiffs sought emergency relief in the Supreme Court, saying that the Fifth Circuit’s ruling “forces millions of Texas voters to either risk their health at the polls, twice, or relinquish their right to vote in the upcoming election season.”
The state’s primary runoff election, which was postponed in light of the pandemic, is scheduled to be held on July 14. Judge Biery’s ruling also applied to the general election in November.
Frequently Asked Questions and Advice
Updated June 24, 2020
What’s the best material for a mask?
Scientists around the country have tried to identify everyday materials that do a good job of filtering microscopic particles. In recent tests, HEPA furnace filters scored high, as did vacuum cleaner bags, fabric similar to flannel pajamas and those of 600-count pillowcases. Other materials tested included layered coffee filters and scarves and bandannas. These scored lower, but still captured a small percentage of particles.
Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?
A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?
The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.
What is pandemic paid leave?
The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
Other constitutional amendments, lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote, used nearly identical language to bar discrimination in voting based on race, sex and the failure to pay a poll tax. “A state would plainly violate those amendments if it offered no-excuse mail voting only to whites, only to men or only to voters who pay a tax,” they wrote.
“If granting the right to cast mail-in ballots on the basis of race violates the 15th Amendment — and of course it does — then it follows inescapably that granting that right on the basis of age violates the 26th,” they wrote.
In response, Ken Paxton, Texas’ attorney general, told the justices that “there is no constitutional right to vote by mail.”
“So long as a state has permitted voting through other means, which Texas has,” Mr. Paxton wrote, “the right to vote is not implicated.”
Even assuming that discrimination based on age violates the 26th Amendment, Mr. Paxton wrote, the solution would be to bar older people from voting by mail rather than allowing younger people to do so.