Surgeon General: 'I Say As a Black Man...People Have Died for the Right to Vote'

By Susan Jones | April 7, 2020 | 8:01am EDT
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams (Photo by Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams (Photo by Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

( - U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams is actively promoting the Trump administration's "30 days to stop the spread" initiative, which relies on the American people keeping their distance from one another and limiting their outside excursions to avoid spreading the Covid-19 virus.

But on Tuesday, Adams did not discourage people in Wisconsin from voting in person in that state's primary election:

"Well, I say as a black man that I know that people have died for the right to vote," Adams told NBC's "Today" show.

"This is very important to -- to our entire country, and if people are going to go out there and vote, then please, do it as safely as possible. Maintain six feet. Please, especially in Wisconsin, consider wearing a cloth facial covering to protect your neighbor.

“If you're going to exercise your right to vote, do it as safely as possible," Adams urged.

The Democrat National Committee sued to extend both the voter registration deadline and the vote-by-mail deadlines in Wisconsin so that ballots postmarked on Election Day (April 7) would be counted as long as they were received by April 13.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Democrats, siding with the Republican National Committee and Wisconsin Republicans, by blocking a lower-court ruling that extended those deadlines.

In a statement, Andrew Hitt, the chairman of the Wisconsin Republican Party, wrote;

“Consistent with years of precedent, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that election laws should not be changed on the eve of an election. The confusion and time wasted as a result of these multiple lawsuits when we should have all been solely focused on preparing for a challenging election is truly sad and unfortunate. While some have argued that we should quickly change or circumvent our laws in a time of crisis, justifications in the moment can quickly lead us down a slippery slope that erodes our democracy.”

The Democrat National Committee also reacted, saying Democrats "are focused on protecting the people of their state and the integrity of our democracy," while "Republican leaders are focused on political gain, and they will stop at nothing to get it – no matter the consequences to public health and our democracy.”

The per curiam Supreme Court decision made it clear that Wisconsin's decision to proceed with the April 7 election "is not the question before the Court."

The question before the Court is a narrow, technical question about the absentee ballot process.  In this Court, all agree that the deadline for the municipal clerks to receive absentee ballots has been extended from Tuesday, April 7, to Monday, April 13.  That extension, which is not challenged in this Court, has afforded Wisconsin voters several extra days in which to mail their absentee ballots. 

The sole question before the Court is whether absentee ballots now must be mailed and post-marked by election day, Tuesday, April 7, as state law would necessarily require, or instead may be mailed and postmarked after election day, so long as they are received by Monday, April 13. 

The Supreme Court noted that Democrats did not even ask the lower court to allow ballots mailed and postmarked after election day, April 7, to be counted. “That is a critical point in the case,” the ruling said:

Nonetheless, five days before the scheduled election, the District Court unilaterally ordered that absentee ballots mailed and postmarked after election day, April 7, still be counted so long as they are received by April 13. 

Extending  the  date  by  which  ballots  may  be  cast  by  voters -- not  just  received  by  the  municipal  clerks  but  cast  by  voters -- for an additional six days after the scheduled election day fundamentally alters the nature of the election. 

And again, the plaintiffs themselves did not even ask for that relief in their preliminary injunction motions. Our point is not that the argument is necessarily forfeited, but is that the plaintiffs themselves did not see the need to ask for such relief.

By changing the election rules so close to the election date and by affording relief that the plaintiffs themselves did not ask for in their preliminary injunction motions, the District Court contravened this Court’s precedents and erred by ordering such relief.  This Court has repeatedly emphasized that lower federal courts should ordinarily not alter the election rules on the eve of an election.

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