Trump, Allies Rejected by Supreme Court on Election Appeals

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The U.S. Supreme Court turned away eight appeals stemming from the 2020 presidential election fight, dealing a series of rebuffs to former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies.

The rejections include appeals filed in December to try to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victories in five key states. The court had signaled months ago it wasn’t interested in hearing the appeals, which claimed without foundation that Biden’s wins were the product of widespread fraud, caused in part by the use of mail-in ballots.

The court also turned away two Pennsylvania appeals that conservative justices had previously indicated they might agree to hear and that might have reset the rules for future presidential elections. Republicans argued that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unconstitutionally usurped the power of the state legislature by allowing three extra days for ballots to arrive because of the pandemic and anticipated mail delays.

Three conservative justices -- Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch -- said they would have heard the Pennsylvania case, but they were unable to secure the needed fourth vote.

The outcome suggests that Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett voted to reject the appeals. Neither made any comment. Kavanaugh previously indicated he disagreed with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision.

Thomas blasted the decision not to hear the case, saying the court was leaving broad uncertainty about the power of state courts to change the rules for presidential elections. Thomas also said mail-in ballots are especially susceptible to fraud.

Thomas Dissent

“By doing nothing, we invite further confusion and erosion of voter confidence,” Thomas wrote in a dissenting opinion. “Our fellow citizens deserve better and expect more of us.”

Republicans filed the Pennsylvania appeals in October, seeking to help Trump’s re-election bid. The Supreme Court declined to intervene before the Nov. 3 election.

The power of state judges to reshape voting rules has been a recurring theme in presidential-election litigation, playing a central role in the 2000 Bush v. Gore case and in multiple 2020 clashes. Republicans say courts are limited by a U.S. constitutional provision that lets state legislatures set the voting rules.

Pennsylvania allowed no-excuse mail-in voting for the first time in 2020. A measure passed in 2019 by the Republican-controlled state legislature and signed by the Democratic governor said those ballots had to be received by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

In extending the deadline to Nov. 6, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court pointed to a state constitutional clause that guarantees a “free and equal” election. The ruling also required elections officials to presume that any ballot received by Nov. 6 was mailed on time, even if it lacked a legible postmark.

‘Too Few Ballots’

State officials said fewer than 10,000 ballots were received during the three-day period after Election Day, a small fraction of the number Trump would have needed to overturn Biden’s 80,555-vote win in the state. Thomas acknowledged that point in his dissent, saying the state court ruling “seems to have affected too few ballots to change the outcome of any federal election.”

The Supreme Court on Oct. 28 refused to fast-track the case for a pre-election ruling. In a statement accompanying that order, Alito agreed that that the issue couldn’t be resolved before the Nov. 3 election, but said there was a “strong likelihood” that the Pennsylvania court ruling was unconstitutional.

Chief Justice John Roberts has split with his fellow conservatives on the issue. Although Roberts has voted to curb the power of federal judges in election litigation, he has suggested that state courts must be given latitude to apply their own constitutions.

The court’s three liberal justices -- Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan -- have backed the power of both state and federal judges to ease voting restrictions, particularly during the pandemic.

Results Challenged

The extension was challenged by the Pennsylvania Republican Party and two leading GOP state senators: Joseph Scarnati, who was the president pro tempore when the appeal was filed, and Jake Corman, who was majority leader and is now president pro tempore. Scarnati and Corman argued that the state court “substituted its will for the will of the General Assembly.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro defended the extension. He wrote that the constitutional framers “in granting state legislatures the power to prescribe election rules, did not intend to hermetically seal those legislatures from all scrutiny by the co-equal branches of state government.”

The cases are Republican Party of Pennsylvania v. Degraffenreid, 20-542, and Corman v. Pennsylvania Democratic Party, 20-574.

The other six appeals challenged the presidential election results in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. The cases included two filed by Trump himself and others pressed by his Republican allies.

The Supreme Court previously refused to issue emergency orders in the cases or put them on a fast track.

Those cases are Wood v. Raffensperger, 20-799; Ward v. Jackson, 20-809; Kelly v. Pennsylvania, 20-810; King v. Whitmer, 20-815; Trump v. Degraffenreid, 20-845; and Trump v. Biden, 20-882.

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