Gavel Drop: Before Election Day, a Flurry of Action on Voting Lawsuits

Some Native American voters in North Dakota are likely to be disenfranchised at the ballot box tomorrow.

[PHOTO: A line of people facing away from the camera bend over white voting booths as they fill out ballots.]
In the days before Election Day, courts around the country have been ruling on voter identification measures that may be a factor in Election Day outcomes. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Voting Rights

A federal judge last Thursday declined to issue an injunction in a lawsuit filed by Native Americans that challenges a North Dakota voter ID law they say disenfranchises them. The law requires residents in North Dakota to present identification with a current street address in order to vote, but Native Americans living on reservations mostly rely on P.O. boxes. Now thousands of Native Americans might not be able to vote tomorrow all because North Dakota Republicans don’t want them to.

Now, some better news. A Missouri appeals court last week revived a 2017 lawsuit challenging the state’s voter ID law. The lawsuit, which was previously dismissed, claimed the state failed to provide adequate public education and funding regarding the new photo ID requirements. A separate ruling earlier this month struck down portions of the law that required voters without a photo ID to provide signed affidavits attesting to their identities.

In another win against voter suppression, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal brought by Pennsylvania Republicans challenging the state’s new congressional district map, which replaced the gerrymandered map drawn by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature back in 2011. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ruled earlier this year that the map was unconstitutional and needed to be replaced because it was drawn to give an advantage to one party over the other.

And finally, Ohio voters kicked off registered voting rolls will be able to cast a provisional ballot tomorrow. A federal appeals court last week ordered the state to count provisional ballots in Tuesday’s midterm elections for individuals who were purged from the rolls between 2011 and 2015 as long as they live in the same county where they were last registered. So if this is you, get to the polls!

Actually, this goes for everyone. If you haven’t already taken advantage of early voting—and haven’t been stripped of the right to vote—get to the polls. And take a friend.


Just a month into Brett Kavanaugh’s tenure at the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS), a second state has turned to the court in hopes of stripping pregnant people of their reproductive rights and upending Roe v. Wade. The state of Alabama has announced its intent to ask SCOTUS to review the state’s effort to ban the most commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure. Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall asked the nation’s highest court last week to grant the state an additional 30 days to file its petition for review. The law, which bans dilation and evacuation procedures, was signed in 2016 by former Gov. Robert Bentley (R). A federal judge blocked the law as unconstitutional, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in August upheld the decision. This isn’t the first abortion rights challenge to potentially come before the newly formed conservative Supreme Court majority; the court is currently deciding whether to hear arguments over a separate anti-abortion law in Indiana.


Voters in Alabama this week will get to decide if they miss having someone like former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore presiding over the state’s highest court. Republican Tom Parker, one of Moore’s former aides and current associate justice on the Alabama Supreme Court, is running for Moore’s old seat as chief justice. Parker holds many of the same terrible views as Moore—nostalgia for the Confederacy, opposition to same-sex marriage, the desire to jail pregnant people who terminate pregnancies—you know, the usual. While Alabama voters ultimately rejected the U.S. Senate candidacy of Moore—who was accused of sexually assaulting young teenagers—they did so just barely. With no polling data available and in an election where abortion rights are literally on the ballot, it’ll be interesting to see what motivates voters this time around.