Pennsylvania Supreme Court Dismisses Challenge to Mail-in Voting on Equitable Doctrine of “Laches”

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Dismisses Challenge to Mail-in Voting on Equitable Doctrine of “Laches” By Shipwreckedcrew for Red State

Earlier on Saturday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a short decision ordering dismissal of the complaint filed by Congressman Mike Kelly and seven others challenging the legality of “no excuse” mail-in voting adopted by the Pennsylvania Legislature.  The complaint alleged that such a system violated express provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which require in-person voting subject only to very limited exceptions for “absent electors” within four very narrow classes.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court did not address the merits of the allegations.  It dismissed the complaint solely on the equitable doctrine of “laches,” which can be applied when one party to a dispute is seen by the Court as having “sat on its rights” with regard to a legal claim, and the opposing party would be unfairly injured to allow the party asserting its rights to prevail after having failed to act when it was first aware of the claim.

Here is what the Court wrote:

Upon consideration of the parties’ filings in Commonwealth Court, we hereby dismiss the petition for review with prejudice based upon Petitioners’ failure to file their facial constitutional challenge in a timely manner. Petitioners’ challenge violates the doctrine of laches given their complete failure to act with due diligence in commencing their facial constitutional challenge, which was ascertainable upon Act 77’s enactment. It is well-established that “[l]aches is an equitable doctrine that bars relief when a complaining party is guilty of want of due diligence in failing to promptly institute an action to the prejudice of another.”

As I have pointed out many times, judges in Pennsylvania, including Supreme Court judges, are elected in partisan contests where representatives from political parties run against each other.  There are currently five Democrats and two Republicans on the seven-member Court.

The vote today was 7-0, but both Republican members dissented from the outright dismissal of the complaint.  Their view is that the constitutionality of the mail-in voting system established by statute is in question, and the plaintiffs in the case are entitled to pursue that claim.  But they agreed with the five Democrats that issuing an injunction preventing certification of the election was too drastic a remedy because of the impact it would have on the outcome of Pennsylvania’s election.

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