Shakeup At Supreme Court Has Coney Barrett In Line To Hear Potential Elections Challenge

Photo: Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett meets with Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., not pictured, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Photo Credit: Jim Lo Scalzo / AP

The Center Square [By Cole Lauterbach]-

Newly appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has been assigned the Seventh Circuit under new assignments announced by Chief Justice John Roberts. 

The assignment could put Coney Barrett in a position to hear emergency requests for review in GOP-led challenges to election results in two Wisconsin counties. However, election law experts say it will have no bearing on the outcome of the challenges. 

In addition to their role in issuing opinions, a justice’s circuit appointment gives them the responsibility to hear emergency applications and refer matters to the full court to review. On Nov. 6, Republicans filed an emergency application to the Supreme Court to hold ballots received after polls closed on Election Day, approved by Justice Samuel Alito. 

While the role does give Coney Barrett some discretion, it will likely not be of consequence for Trump’s legal effort to overturn the election results.

“For litigation concerning the presidential election, the identity of a Circuit Justice is unlikely to play a major role,” Michael Morley, assistant professor at Florida State University College of Law, told The Center Square. “If a Justice believed there was a chance the Court might grant certiorari [review of a lower court ruling] in the case, he or she would likely forward a petition for emergency relief to the full Court, rather than adjudicating it individually. Although the Supreme Court could conceivably clarify some important issues of election law or resolve circuit splits concerning some election-related issues, there’s no realistic likelihood that any of the cases it would be asked to hear would change the outcome of this election.”

Joshua Douglas, a law professor at the University of Kentucky’s Rosenberg College of Law, told The Center Square that “Trump’s lawsuits have no merit whatsoever and there is zero chance that circuit court assignments will have any impact … even if a single Justice issues a ruling and does not refer the question to the full Court, a litigant can then go ask another Justice. That’s disfavored, but it’s allowed under Supreme Court rules.” 

The role of justices as assigned to respective circuits acts as a filter of sorts to keep the nation’s highest court from wasting their time on needless requests.

“The Circuit Justice for each circuit is generally responsible for initially receiving requests for emergency relief from U.S. Courts of Appeals decisions – either to stay a lower court’s ruling or to grant an injunction pending a petition for certiorari,” Morley said. “The Circuit Justice largely plays a screening function to weed out the baseless requests. He or she can grant relief but usually will forward a substantial request for relief in an important or controversial case on to the Court as a whole. Moreover, whether a Circuit Justice grants or denies emergency relief, the matter can be reconsidered by the full Court.”

Coney Barrett was a circuit judge in the Seventh Circuit for three years. She takes over the Seventh Circuit role previously held by Brett Kavanaugh, another Trump appointee.

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