The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Texas’ unprecedented and audacious legal bid to void the vote in Pennsylvania and three other battleground states on Friday, effectively ending the president’s chances of using the courts to reverse his election loss.
In a brief unsigned order, the justices said Texas lacked standing to challenge “the manner in which another state conducts its election.” Their decision cleared the way for President-elect Joe Biden to be declared the victor of the Electoral College vote on Monday.
It also served as an unmistakable repudiation of the confidence with which the president and some members of his party had predicted that the justices Trump installed on the court would ultimately choose loyalty to him over their sworn oaths to uphold the law.
Trump, who had previously declared the case “the big one,” did not immediately respond to the court’s decision. However, earlier in the day, he appeared to be lobbying the justices via Twitter, writing that the only way for the nation’s electoral process to regain respect was for the justices to show “great wisdom and courage.”
Afterwards, his aides were quick to condemn them. Jenna Ellis, the president’s legal adviser, called their ruling “morally outrageous” and accused the court’s conservative majority of deciding the case on a “political whim.”
In a Fox News appearance, White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany bluntly stated that the justices had let the president down.
“There’s no way to say it other than they dodged,” she said. “They hid behind procedure and they refused to use their authority to enforce the Constitution.”
But Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, whose office had represented the state in court, thanked the justices for holding the line against what he described as a “seditious abuse of the electoral process.”
The court’s “swift denial should make anyone contemplating further attacks on our election think twice,” he said in a statement. “While these stunts are legally insignificant, their cost to our country — in misleading the public about a free and fair election and in tearing at our Constitution — is high and we will not tolerate them from our sister states or anyone else.”
By deciding Texas had no standing to sue Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the justices did not engage with the substance of arguments laid out by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the state’s initial brief to the court earlier this week. Many of his claims were riddled with factual inaccuracies and debunked conspiracy theories that had previously been rejected in dozens of other court challenges Trump and his GOP allies have pursued in lower courts.
Still, Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas, who have previously asserted the court does not have the authority to turn away legal disputes between states, said they would have granted Texas leave to file its complaint.
Both noted, however, that they would not have agreed to the relief Paxton sought: throwing out the results in the contested battlegrounds and appointing their state legislatures to choose the victor instead.
In a statement, Paxton called Friday’s decision “unfortunate.”
From the start, election law experts on both sides of the partisan divide had dismissed the case as “a publicity stunt masquerading as a lawsuit” based on debunked theories and legally dubious arguments.
And while it found no traction with the justices, Texas’ effort exposed a startling willingness among some Republican leaders to endorse the disenfranchisement of millions of U.S. voters in order to prove their fealty to the president.
Ultimately, 19 states and more than two-thirds of the House Republican caucus — including all of Pennsylvania’s nine GOP congressmen aside from Brian Fitzpatrick and Lloyd Smucker — filed briefs with the court seeking to void an election in which their party expanded its ranks in the chamber.
Several state lawmakers, including more than 70 members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and another 24 from the Senate, also urged the court to take up the case, though not all of them endorsed setting aside the election result.
Those divisions are unlikely to subside.
After the ruling, the chairman of Texas’ Republican Party all but called for secession.
“This decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the future of our constitutional republic,” he said in a statement. “Perhaps law-abiding citizens should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the constitution.”
Trump, too, is unlikely to abandon the baseless claims of a rigged election he has been making for over a month. He has already begun marshaling allies in Congress to challenge the Electoral College results when the House and Senate meet in a joint session Jan. 6 to certify the outcome.
And a number of Republican House members — including Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) — have said they intend to dispute Biden electors from some states. However, for those challenges to succeed, they must survive majority votes in both chambers of Congress.
With the Democrats in control of the House and a slim GOP majority in the Senate, it is unlikely that the president could rally sufficient votes to throw the process into disarray.
Meanwhile, some lingering court battles remain, including another push from U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R., Pa.) for Supreme Court to consider his challenge to Pennsylvania’s vote-by-mail law, a case the the court rejected earlier this week.
None of them are likely to succeed in stopping Biden’s path to Inauguration Day. But the issues raised in the past month of legal challenges will inevitably fuel debate in Harrisburg and other state capitals for months to come.
At its core, the Texas suit argued that Democratic officials and judges in each of the battleground states had exploited the coronavirus pandemic to implement what Paxton described as “drastic and fraud-inducing” policies that ran counter to the will of their state legislatures.
Courts have repeatedly upheld as lawful steps that Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar implemented to make voting easier amid a pandemic, including measures that allowed county boards of elections to set up satellite offices for voters to apply for and submit their mail ballots and efforts to set up convenient drop boxes for the collection of votes.
But Republicans have challenged those policies, arguing that they varied from the election integrity procedures lawmakers had in mind when they passed the law that created widespread mail voting in the state for the first time last year.
“The unimpeachability of our elections requires clear procedures of administration so that everyone gets a fair shake,” wrote Pennsylvania House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster) and Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff in an earlier brief in the Texas case. “Unfortunately, outside actors have so markedly twisted and gerrymandered the Commonwealth’s Election Code to the point that [we] find it unrecognizable from the laws that [we] enacted.”
GOP leadership in both chambers of the General Assembly have already signaled their intent to tighten restrictions for future elections during the next legislative session.
But, in his statement Friday evening, Shapiro sought to assure voters that the outcome of this year’s race finally appeared guaranteed, no matter what the future might bring.
“On Monday, the Electoral College will meet, and Pennsylvania’s 20 electors will cast their votes to reflect the will of the people,” he said. “My office has successfully protected Pennsylvanians right to vote against a constant assault … and we will continue that fight as long as necessary.”
Read the order: