Supreme Court began hearing arguments by conference call one year ago this week

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COVID-19 policy changes and events one year ago this week

The U.S. Supreme Court wraps up arguments in its 2020-2021 term on May 4. One year ago that day, SCOTUS heard oral arguments by conference call for the first time in history. The court had postponed oral arguments starting in March of 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a sampling of coronavirus-related policy changes and events that happened one year ago this week.

Stay-at-home orders:

  • On May 4, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) allowed their statewide stay-at-home orders to expire. 
  • On May 6, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) allowed the statewide stay-at-home order to expire. 

Travel restrictions

  • On May 4, the Virginia Department of Health recommended that visitors or residents self-quarantine for 14 days if they had traveled internationally, on a cruise ship or river boat, or to an area of the U.S. with high rates of community spread.

School closures:

  • On May 4, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) announced that schools would remain closed to in-person instruction for the rest of the academic year. The order applied to public and private schools. Private schools were required to remain closed through June 30.

Election changes:

  • On May 4, Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill (D) announced that all eligible voters in the Aug. 11 statewide primary and Nov. 3 general election would automatically receive absentee/mail-in ballot applications.
  • On May 5, Judge Norman Moon, of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, approved a settlement between the parties in League of Women Voters of Virginia v. Virginia State Board of Elections. As a result, the witness requirement for absentee voting in the June 23 primary was suspended. Judge Analisa Torres, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, ordered the New York State Board of Elections to reinstate the June 23 Democratic presidential preference primary, which the board had previously canceled.

Federal government responses:

  • On May 4, the Supreme Court heard arguments for the first time by conference call.

Mask requirements:

  • On May 6, a Massachusetts order requiring individuals to wear masks in public places where social distancing is not possible took effect. Gov. Charlie Baker (R) issued the order on May 1. Massachusetts was the 12th state to issue a statewide mask mandate.  

Twenty-five states had statewide mask orders in effect, including 20 of the 23 states with Democratic governors and five out of the 27 states with Republican governors, as of Friday, April 30.

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Two Republicans advance to runoff for Texas’ 6th Congressional District

Susan Wright (R) and Jake Ellzey (R) advanced to a runoff from a 23-candidate field in the special election to fill the vacancy in Texas’ 6th Congressional District on May 1. Since both candidates are Republicans, the seat will not change party hands as a result of this election. As of May 2, state officials had not yet announced a runoff date.

Wright received 19.2% of the vote to Ellzey’s 13.8%. The two other candidates to receive at least 10% were Jana Lynne Sanchez (D) with 13.4% and Brian Harrison (R) with 10.8%. Sanchez fell 354 votes short of the runoff based on unofficial results.

The previous incumbent, Ronald Wright (R), died from COVID-19 related complications on Feb. 7, 2021. Susan Wright is Ronald Wright’s widow. Former President Donald Trump (R) endorsed her on April 26.

The district became more competitive in both presidential and congressional elections from 2012 to 2020. In 2020, Donald Trump (R) won the district 51-48, running behind Wright, who won 53-44. In 2016, Trump won the district 54-42, while Wright won 58-39. In 2012, Mitt Romney (R) won the district 58-41 while then-Rep. Joe Barton (R) won re-election 58-39. Midterm elections in the district have followed the same trend. In 2018, Wright won re-election 53-45, while Barton won 61-36 in 2014.

In this special election, Democrats earned about 37% of the votes cast, returning to a 2014 level for the district.

This is the third special congressional election held this year for the 117th Congress. Three others have been scheduled so far for New Mexico’s 1st District and Ohio’s 11th and 15th districts. Ten special elections were held for the 116th Congress (2019-2020) and 17 were held for the 115th Congress (2017-2018).

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Florida to vote in 2022 on abolishing the Florida Constitution Revision Commission

The Florida legislature approved a measure for the 2022 ballot that would abolish the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC). The measure must be approved by 60% of voters. The Florida CRC is a 37-member commission provided for in the state constitution to review and propose changes to the Florida Constitution. It has convened every 20 years since 1977. The CRC refers constitutional amendments directly to the ballot for a public vote. Florida is the only state with a commission that can refer constitutional amendments to the ballot. 

For this measure to appear on the ballot, 60% of each legislative chamber was required to support it. Florida’s state Senate approved it by a vote of 27 to 12 on March 25. All 24 Senate Republicans joined three Democrats voting in favor. All votes against were by Democrats. Florida’s state House approved it, 86-28, on April 27. Seventy-five Republicans joined 11 Democrats voting ‘yes,’ and all 28 ‘no’ votes were by Democrats.

The CRC’s meeting in 2017-2018 received 2,013 proposals from the public and 103 from commission members. They referred eight measures to the 2018 ballot. All were approved except one. The Second Judicial Court ruled that the measure’s ballot language was misleading, blocking it from the ballot. 

Beyond what is required in Section 2 of Article XI of the Florida Constitution, the CRC sets its own rules and procedures. Click here to learn more about the rules by which the commission referred measures to the ballot.

While no other state has a constitution revision commission that meets automatically like Florida’s, 44 states have rules that govern how a constitutional convention—a gathering of elected delegates who propose revisions and amendments to a state constitution—can be called. Click here for information on state constitutional conventions.

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