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Editorial: Justice Ginsburg defended voting rights in Wisconsin

Editorial: Justice Ginsburg defended voting rights in Wisconsin

Ginsburg, a feminist icon memorialized as the Notorious RBG (copy)

FILE - In this Sept. 26, 2018, file photo, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg leaves the stage after speaking to first-year students at Georgetown Law in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

There can be no question that Sen. Tammy Baldwin was correct when she said, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg lived an inspiring and historic life, and her work has shaped America for the better.”

Yet, as we recall the life and legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, who died Friday at age 87, we reflect on the many instances in which this remarkable justice stood up for Wisconsin during the 27 years she served on the high court.

Nowhere has that been more true than on the issue of voting rights in this state, where Republican legislators and right-wing judicial activists have sought so frequently, so destructively, to diminish those rights.

In the spring of this year, when Gov. Tony Evers sought to assure that the April 7 election would be safe and fair — in the midst of a pandemic — Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, resisted and they won the support of their judicial allies on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Justice Ginsburg dissented. She was the one who spoke for the health and safety of Wisconsin voters, and for democracy itself, when she warned about the “massive disenfranchisement” of people who had applied for absentee ballots and not received them — because of the overwhelming number of demands and because of mail delays — in time to participate in the election. The justice argued that voters who had applied for absentee ballots should be given a chance to cast them, writing, “If a voter already in line by the poll’s closing time can still vote, why should Wisconsin’s absentee voters, already in line to receive ballots, be denied the franchise?”

Speaking to the practical and moral issues of that disenfranchisement, Justice Ginsburg wrote, “The majority of this Court declares that this case presents a 'narrow, technical question.' That is wrong. The question here is whether tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens can vote safely in the midst of a pandemic. Under the District Court’s order, they would be able to do so. Even if they receive their absentee ballot in the days immediately following Election Day, they could return it. With the majority’s stay in place, that will not be possible. Either they will have to brave the polls, endangering their own and others’ safety. Or they will lose their right to vote, through no fault of their own. That is a matter of utmost importance — to the constitutional rights of Wisconsin’s citizens, the integrity of the State’s election process, and in this most extraordinary time, the health of the nation.”

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