The Supreme Court on Friday rebuffed Texas’ request to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in four states – Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – that provided key electoral votes to President-elect Joe Biden. In a brief order issued just before 6:30 p.m., the justices explained that Texas lacked a legal right to sue, known as standing, and did not have a legal interest in how other states carried out their elections. As a result, the court rejected Texas’ lawsuit without considering the merits of the state’s case. Virtually all legal experts had given the lawsuit little chance of succeeding from the moment it was filed on Monday.
The procedural posture in which Texas came to the Supreme Court was an extraordinarily unusual one for an election-law dispute. Texas had asked the justices for permission to file its lawsuit directly in the Supreme Court, relying on the court’s original jurisdiction, which is most often used to resolve interstate disputes involving more mundane and less time-sensitive issues like water rights. Texas told the justices that the 2020 election had “suffered from significant and unconstitutional irregularities in” the four states at issue, making it impossible to know who “legitimately won the 2020 election.”
Numerous lower courts have considered similar allegations in the five weeks since the Nov. 3 election and have uniformly dismissed them as lacking evidence or legal basis. Nevertheless, Texas asked the justices to delay the official vote of the Electoral College, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 14, or prevent the four states from casting votes in the Electoral College for Biden, who was declared the winner of the popular vote in each state.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked the justices to join the lawsuit. In attempting to show that the election was “stolen,” Trump cited the fact that he had prevailed in both Florida and Ohio, claiming (erroneously) that “no candidate in history has ever lost the election after winning both States.” Texas also received support from a variety of “friend of the court” briefs, ranging from Republican members of Congress to two non-existent states, “New California” and “New Nevada.”
In four separate briefs that sometimes used sharp language not normally found in Supreme Court filings, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin urged the justices to stay out of the dispute. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro used the harshest rhetoric of the four, arguing that 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.” The four states stressed that Texas lacks a legal right to challenge their election procedures in court. Moreover, they added, this is not the kind of case that the Supreme Court should tackle directly, rather than allowing the challenge to make its way through the lower courts first.
Justice Samuel Alito filed a short statement regarding the court’s disposition of the case that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Alito and Thomas have previously argued that the Supreme Court must take up any case that properly invokes its original jurisdiction, and Alito repeated that belief here. Therefore, Alito explained, he would allow Texas to file its lawsuit, but he “would not grant other relief.” Moreover, Alito added, he “express[ed] no view on any other issue” raised in the case.
With the Electoral College vote slated to take place in just three days, Friday’s order as a practical matter puts a stop to efforts to contest the results of the election through litigation. It’s less clear, however, that the order can end the partisan divide in the country.
In the same set of orders, the justices added one unrelated case to their merits docket for the term: a petition filed by investment bank Goldman Sachs, which is the defendant in a class action lawsuit alleging that the company engaged in securities fraud by making false statements about its business practices, knowing that it had conflicts of interests in transactions involving subprime mortgages. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certifying a class of shareholders, and now the Supreme Court will review that decision in Goldman Sachs v. Arkansas Teacher Retirement System.
This post is also published on SCOTUSblog.