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Supreme Court denies Trump election challenge

Decision all but ends the president’s legal push to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election

A handful of Trump supporters carry flags in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Friday.
A handful of Trump supporters carry flags in front of the U.S. Supreme Court Friday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Supreme Court succinctly rejected an effort from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies Friday to wipe out the 2020 presidential election results in four key states and help keep him in the White House.

The decision all but ends Trump’s ineffectual legal push over the past few weeks to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election — one that included allegations of voter fraud in mail-in ballots or tabulating shenanigans in key states that went unproven , and loss after loss in state and federal courts.

Trump’s attempt to remain in office now collides with the inevitable reality of his reelection defeat as each state’s electors are poised to cast their ballots Monday. But it undercut public confidence in the results and revealed which of Trump’s allies in Congress and states actively backed what legal and political experts called a meritless and fundamentally anti-democratic scheme to override the will of American voters.

That includes Republican state attorneys general from Texas and 17 other states who backed a remarkable filing from Texas to challenge the election results from Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin that are key to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

And 126 House Republicans — almost two-thirds of the current caucus including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California — signed on to a brief that encouraged the Supreme Court to hear that Texas lawsuit and argued those states’ elections had produced “unconstitutional ballots.”

The original 106 members on the brief Thursday included some members from states where the Texas lawsuit wanted the results thrown out, and 20 more members were added Friday.

Bipartisan backlash

The effort drew rebukes from both parties.

Former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush called the Texas lawsuit “crazy.” Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called the lawmaker brief “following a clown to nowhere.” Texas Republican Rep. Chip Roy called it “a dangerous violation of federalism” that would set a precedent of “one state asking federal courts to police the voting procedures of other states.”

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar said the Republican lawmakers “are attempting a coup in broad daylight and it should not be treated as anything less.” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Christopher S. Murphy tweeted that the House Republican signers of the brief “have betrayed their country. And while they can’t make Trump President, these radicals are setting us on a path to the end of democracy. It’s that serious.”

A lawmaker who signed the brief, Texas Republican Rep. Daniel Crenshaw, called that “left-wing outrage” and said the request of the House filing was simple: Authorities other than state legislatures made changes to election law, and the Supreme Court should make a determination about whether to vacate the results of those elections and have state legislatures determine what to do with the electors.

“All cases should be heard, all investigations should be thorough,” Crenshaw tweeted. “It is that simple.”

Trump called his legal filing at the Supreme Court “the big one” that “everyone has been waiting for.” He tweeted Thursday that the justices have “a chance to save our Country from the greatest Election abuse in the history of the United States.”

“Now that the Biden Administration will be a scandal plagued mess for years to come, it is much easier for the Supreme Court of the United States to follow the Constitution and do what everybody knows has to be done. They must show great Courage & Wisdom. Save the USA!!!” Trump tweeted Friday.

The Supreme Court declined that opportunity in an unsigned, one-page order. The court denied Texas the right to move forward with their lawsuit, because the state “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”

The justices dismissed all other motions, including Trump’s, as moot. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in a one-paragraph statement that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, noted that he didn’t think the court has the discretion to deny filing the legal action at the Supreme Court.

“I would therefore grant the motion to file the bill of complaint but would not grant other relief, and I express no view on any other issue,” Alito said in the statement.

There were no noted dissents.

The decision was not a surprise to legal experts. Trump’s filings at the court pinned dubious arguments onto Texas’ long-shot request — more of a no-chance request — for the justices to entertain one state’s challenge to the election results from other states.

The Lone Star State’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, who reportedly faces an FBI investigation over allegations he used the office to benefit a donor, sought permission to file a lawsuit directly at the Supreme Court over how voting was conducted in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Texas solicitor general, who would typically represent the state before the Supreme Court, did not sign onto the filings.

Voters’ will

And what Trump asked the Supreme Court to do in his filings was a breathtaking break from the democratic process.

The president wanted the nation’s highest court to prevent those four states from using the results of their elections, and instead give state legislatures control of the states’ Electoral College votes.

But the election, by that point, was all over but the counting in Congress of the electoral votes. All 50 states and Washington, D.C., already had certified their election results.

The Supreme Court didn’t comment on the enormity of such a request, which relied in part on a questionable-at-best statistical analysis in the Texas filing (which concluded that Biden’s chances of beating Trump in the four states was “less than one in a quadrillion”).

Among other problems with Republican filings, there were arguments that had been rejected in other courts and at least two errors (one about the number of Electoral College votes at stake in the four states, and another that repeated information in a Trump tweet that no president had ever won Florida and Ohio as Trump did but not win the White House, but John F. Kennedy did that in 1960).

Pennsylvania, in its response Thursday at the Supreme Court, said Texas wanted the justices to disregard the Constitution, not interpret it. And they said the Texas filings attempt to construct a “surreal alternate reality.”

“Texas’s effort to get this Court to pick the next President has no basis in law or fact,” Pennsylvania state officials wrote. “The Court should not abide this seditious abuse of the judicial process, and should send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated.”

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a former state solicitor general, after a request from Trump agreed to make oral arguments in the case if the Supreme Court agreed to decide it, The New York Times reported Friday.

But Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a former state attorney general, had distanced himself from his home state’s legal effort ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision. He questioned why Texas would have a say in how other states administer their elections, and told reporters, “I read just the summary of it, and I frankly struggle to understand the legal theory of it.”

Regardless, Republican attorneys general from 17 states filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to allow Texas to file the lawsuit on Wednesday, and then the next day the officials from Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah filed a motion to join the case.

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, the party’s presidential nominee in 2012, called the Texas lawsuit “simply madness” that could harm democracy. Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert and Gov.-elect Spencer Cox said in a joint statement that they were not consulted by the attorney general and that Utah’s participation in the brief was “an unwise use of taxpayers’ money.”

The brief from 126 House Republicans to back Texas told the Supreme Court that there were “unconstitutional ballots” in the four states and that it was the justices’ duty to “restore the confidence of all Americans that the rule of law will be upheld today and our elections in the future will be secured.”

While the Supreme Court avoided comment, a federal judge who heard arguments Thursday in another Trump lawsuit in Wisconsin summed it up during a virtual hearing. Biden won by more than 21,000 votes but Trump’s lawyers want the Republican-led legislature to control the state’s Electoral College votes, and the judge called the effort there “a political case, obviously,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig, a Trump appointee, said that granting Trump’s request in that case would probably be “the most remarkable ruling in the history of this court or the federal judiciary.”

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