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Wisconsin Supreme Court: Republicans have standing in absentee case

Posted at 5:45 PM, Oct 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-06 18:45:36-04

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican legislators have the legal standing to appeal a federal ruling extending the deadline for counting absentee ballots in the presidential battleground state of Wisconsin, the state’s conservative-leaning Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

A federal judge in Madison last month sided with the Democratic National Committee and allied groups in extending until Nov. 9 the period that absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 can be counted. Before the ruling, only ballots received by the close of polls on Nov. 3 could be counted under state law.

If the extension stands, the winner of the presidential race in Wisconsin may not be known for at least a week after Election Day. That could ratchet up tensions for the overall outcome. Democrats hope to flip Wisconsin after President Donald Trump captured the state by fewer than 23,000 votes in 2016.

A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision allowing the extension. Republicans have asked the full 11-member court to review the ruling.

The appellate court has questioned whether legislators have the legal standing to continue defending the Nov. 3 deadline on appeal. Traditionally the attorney general has been responsible for defending state law, but the state’s current attorney general is a Democrat.

The appellate court noted that the state Supreme Court found in a separate case in July that the Legislature can’t represent the state in disputes over a law’s validity. The court asked the justices to rule on the question.

The high court ruled 4-3 that the Legislature can represent the state in disputes over whether statutes are valid. Justice Brian Hagedorn, writing for the majority, said the July ruling was narrowly tailored, that the attorney general doesn’t exclusively have the authority to defend state law and that the Legislature can intervene and represent the state’s interest in upholding statutes.

It’s still up to the full 7th Circuit to decide if it wants to review the case.

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