In another legal loss for President Donald Trump and his allies, the U.S. Supreme Court—to which Trump has appointed three justices—on Tuesday unanimously denied an attempt by a Republican congressman and a group of GOP candidates in Pennsylvania to overturn the commonwealth's election results, which helped deliver President-elect Joe Biden's victory last month.
The justices issued a one-sentence order denying the GOP group's application for an injunction, which was the first request to delay or overturn the presidential election results that reached the nation's highest court. The request was presented to Justice Samuel Alito—who handles emergency applications for the commonwealth—and referred by him to the full court.
"Even as the president and too many who support him are seeking to overturn a free and fair election to keep the election's loser in power, courts (including just now the Supreme Court) and election officials are quietly siding with reality and the law," tweeted Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
"The application for injunctive relief presented to Justice Alito and by him referred to the Court is denied"
No dissents pic.twitter.com/zW1xrwARF2
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) December 8, 2020
Despite admissions from some key Trump allies—notably, U.S. Attorney General William Barr—that there is no evidence of mass voter fraud regarding the November election, the president, his attorneys, and other supporters have continued to make baseless allegations and file lawsuits that have provoked calls for sanctioning Trump's campaign and lawyers.
"The fact that the justices issued a one-sentence order with no separate opinions is a powerful sign that the court intends to stay out of election-related disputes, and that it's going to leave things to the electoral process going forward," said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas at Austin law professor. "It's hard to imagine a more quietly resounding rejection of these challenges from this court."
As the Washington Post reported:
A group of Republican candidates led by Rep. Mike Kelly (R) challenged Act 77, a change made by the Republican-controlled legislature to allow universal mail-in ballots. Their charge was that the state constitution's requirements on absentee ballots meant the legislature didn't have the authority to open mail-in balloting for others.
But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said the challenge was filed too late—only after the votes were cast and the results known. Democrat Joe Biden won the state by a more than 80,000-vote margin.
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The unanimous order blamed petitioners for a "complete failure to act with due diligence in commencing their facial constitutional challenge, which was ascertainable upon Act 77's enactment."
Lawyers representing Pennsylvania had urged (pdf) the Supreme Court justices against weighing in on the case. "Petitioners ask this court to undertake one of the most dramatic, disruptive invocations of judicial power in the history of the republic," they wrote in a brief Tuesday. "No court has ever issued an order nullifying a governor's certification of presidential election results."
"Granting an injunction would sow chaos and confusion across the nation while inflaming baseless concerns about electoral impropriety and ensnaring the judiciary in partisan strife," the commonwealth's lawyers warned. "This case reaches the court against the backdrop of unfounded claims—which have been repeatedly rejected by state and federal courts—that wrongly impugn the integrity of the democratic process and aim to cast doubt on the legitimacy of its outcome."
"Given that context, the court should not plunge itself into a firestorm by issuing the first ever judicial order decertifying the results of a presidential election," they added. "Instead, it should stay true to 'the trust of a nation that here, we the people rule.'"
Noting that "a contingent of Trump supporters tried to fan the flames around the case," Politico pointed out that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went on "a media campaign offering to present oral arguments, should the court have heard the case. Roy Moore, who in 2017 lost a special Senate election in Alabama to Doug Jones, also submitted a friend of the court brief that seemingly argued most early and mail voting should be deemed unconstitutional."
BREAKING: Supreme Court averts threat of having to be in the same room as Ted Cruz https://t.co/KPIfoAa2ob
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) December 8, 2020
Welcoming the high court's denial Tuesday, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that "this was absolutely the right outcome."
Esquire's Charles Pierce remarked that "Rep. Mike Kelly handed the Supreme Court of the United States a reeking dead fish and the court refused delivery."
Earlier Tuesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block four battleground states that Biden won from voting in the Electoral College. According to the Texas Tribune, the Republican claimed that Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin broke the law with election policy changes related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, whether "through executive fiat or friendly lawsuits, thereby weakening ballot integrity."
In a series of tweets, Vladeck called Paxton's filing "insane" and "mostly a stunt—a dangerous, offensive, and wasteful one, but a stunt nonetheless."
Although the Supreme Court has “exclusive” jurisdiction over disputes between states, it does not automatically hear all such cases.
Rather, states have to receive “leave to file,” which usually requires showing that there’s no other forum in which these issues can be resolved.
— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) December 8, 2020
"These attempts are uniquely unserious—nothing has worked in court, in the legislature, and now the Texas attorney general is seeking to just throw out the electoral votes all together in four fellow states," Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said in a statement. "These factless, baseless 'lawsuits' to stir confusion and doubt in our systems are un-American and we should not allow this circus to continue."