The Supreme Court threw out a series of legal challenges on Feb. 22 to voting processes and results in several states left over from the recent presidential election cycle.
The high court didn’t explain why it refused to hear the cases, but three justices dissented from the decision not to hear one of the cases from Pennsylvania.
On Jan. 11, with Inauguration Day just over a week away, the high court denied requests from the litigants–President Donald Trump, Republicans, and Trump supporters—to expedite several of the lawsuits, which concerned the presidential elections held in the battleground states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The court, as is its custom, didn’t explain why it dismissed the emergency applications seeking to fast-track the lawsuits.
President Joe Biden, a Democrat, was inaugurated on Jan. 20, alongside Vice President Kamala Harris after Congress voted Jan. 7 to reject objections by senators and representatives challenging Electoral College votes from disputed states won narrowly by Biden. That vote took place after a breach of the U.S. Capitol by hundreds of protesters delayed the certification process for hours.
Some of the lawsuits challenged the election results on the basis of allegedly unconstitutional changes made to state election procedures. Article II of the U.S. Constitution states that “Each State shall appoint [electors for president and vice president] in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Litigants point out that the legislative power here is “plenary,” meaning unqualified and absolute.
State officials, they say, aren’t allowed to modify election procedures without the consent of the legislature.
One of the now-dismissed appeals, Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Degraffenreid, court files 20-542 and 20-574, was originally known as Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Boockvar, but then respondent Kathy Boockvar resigned as Pennsylvania’s secretary of state and was replaced by Veronica Degraffenreid. The case dealt with the perceived overreach of the state’s Supreme Court when it unilaterally changed election rules without the consent of the state legislature.
The GOP argued in its petition that “important questions of federal law [were] implicated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 4–3 decision extending the General Assembly’s Election Day received-by deadline and mandating a presumption of timeliness for non-postmarked ballots.”
This is the case in which Justice Samuel Alito ordered on Nov. 6, three days after Election Day, that “all ballots received by mail after 8:00 p.m. on November 3 be segregated,” away from other voted ballots.
Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch dissented from the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the appeal.
On Feb. 22, Alito wrote in his dissent, joined by Gorsuch, that the case presents “an important and recurring constitutional question: whether the Elections or Electors Clauses of the United States Constitution … are violated when a state court holds that a state constitutional provision overrides a state statute governing the manner in which a federal election is to be conducted. That question has divided the lower courts, and our review at this time would be greatly beneficial.”
In his dissent, Thomas expressed frustration, writing that the court “failed to settle this dispute before the election, and thus provide clear rules. Now we again fail to provide clear rules for future elections.”