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Federal Judge Cancels Evidentiary Hearing and ‘All’ Deadlines in Trump Campaign’s Lawsuit Against Ballot Drop Boxes


US President Donald Trump speaks during an event announcing the Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) Task Force in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, June 17, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP)

A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Sunday halted a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign which sought to prevent election officials from collecting mail-in ballots via statewide drop boxes.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Ranjan, a judge President Donald Trump appointed to serve in the Western District of Pennsylvania in July 2018, cancelled arguments originally scheduled for September, saying he would not move forward with the lawsuit until litigation in several similar cases concludes in state courts.

“IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court’s July 17, 2020, Scheduling Order [ECF 124] is VACATED, and all remaining requirements and deadlines set forth in that order, including the evidentiary hearing scheduled for September 22 and 23, 2020, are hereby CANCELLED,” Ranjan wrote.

Citing to the 1941 U.S. Supreme Court case Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co., Ranjan reasoned that under the abstention doctrine, the federal court should refrain from ruling on a controversy that hinges on interpretations of state law until the state courts rendered judgment.

“Here, most of Plaintiffs’ federal claims turn on interpretations of the Pennsylvania election code, as amended by Act 77, and allegations that Secretary [Kathy] Boockvar’s guidance violates it. Because Act 77 was only recently enacted, in October 2019, no Pennsylvania state court has interpreted the provisions on which Plaintiffs rely,” Ranjan wrote.

“What’s more, for nearly all these claims, the correct interpretation of the statutory text is unclear. And while Plaintiffs do assert one facial constitutional challenge and allege a few violations of statutory provisions that are probably not ambiguous, these claims are intertwined with those that are less clear. Thus, the state court’s resolution of the uncertain questions could narrow even these claims, or at least cause Plaintiffs to present them in a different posture. Under these exceptional circumstances, the mandatory elements of Pullman abstention are satisfied.”

The president’s re-election campaign filed the lawsuit in June. The Republican National Committee (RNC), three members of Congress from Pennsylvania, and two Republican voters joined the suit. The complaint alleged that the state’s expanded access to mail-in voting, enacted last year, “exponentially enhanced the threat that fraudulent or otherwise ineligible ballots will be cast and counted in the forthcoming general election.”

Earlier this month, Judge Ranjan ordered the plaintiffs to provide evidence supporting the claims that mail-in voting or utilizing drop-boxes leads to increases in voter fraud. The campaign failed to produce any such evidence in its response, instead objecting to the order, arguing that Ranjan had misconstrued the allegations.

“Neither the original Complaint nor the Amended Complaint contains an allegation that ‘ballot harvesting,’ ‘manipulating and destroying ballots,’ double voting, and/or voter fraud from mail-in and absentee ballots actually occurred during the Primary Election,” Trump campaign attorneys wrote. “Instead, the Complaint and the Amended Complaint both allege that Defendants’ hazardous, hurried, and illegal implementation of unmonitored mail-in voting … provides fraudsters an easy opportunity to engage in ballot harvesting, manipulate or destroy ballots, manufacture duplicitous votes, and sow chaos.”

On Sunday, tweeted a conspiracy theory claiming that the use of drop boxes in elections is a “voting security disaster” that allows for “a person to vote multiple times.” He added that the boxes are not “Covid sanitized,” calling the process “a big fraud.” Twitter quickly flagged the president’s tweet, saying it violated the platform’s rules regarding “civic and election integrity.”

See below for Judge Ranjan’s full order:

J. Ranjan Order by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.