The move was a rare example of the conservative court siding with voters over state officials in electoral rule disputes, especially when the court is asked to intervene in emergencies.
However, the unsigned Supreme Court order still left the door open for state Republican officials to try again to revive Georgia’s election committee rules ahead of November’s election.
The commission is Georgia’s regulator for investor-owned utilities, such as power plants and telecommunications. One of his duties is to set rates for residential, commercial and industrial utilities.
Each of the five commission seats is assigned a specific district where the commissioner must reside, but the commissioners themselves are elected in national elections on a staggered six-year calendar.
But the judge’s ruling was subsequently put on hold by the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, prompting voters to seek Supreme Court intervention this week.
Arguments in the appeal centered in part on the so-called Purcell principle, which discourages federal court action that would disrupt election planning close to an election.
The Supreme Court said the 11th Circuit should not have used the principle to justify the judge’s cessation of order. Voters challenging the election rules had pointed out that officials in Georgia said the principle would not apply if they appealed a ruling against the current electoral system before the committee.
The Supreme Court order comes after a series of cases in which the judges collapsed along ideological lines over whether lower court rulings in favor of voting lawyers should be postponed due to upcoming elections.
Similarly, during the 2020 election, the Supreme Court has put several lower court rulings on hold that would have made voting easier during the pandemic.
Many of those injunctions were issued without explanation from the majority, but on a few occasions conservative judges have written to emphasize that their moves were motivated by adherence to the Purcell principle.