The State of Texas is aiming to help Trump upend the election result. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (a Republican) filed suit at the U.S. Supreme Court against the states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, calling changes those states made to election procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic unlawful and unconstitutional.
“You might be wondering, what does Texas care about Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin?” Rush Limbaugh said Dec. 8. “If those four states are allowed to violate election law and if they are able to render state legislators irrelevant in writing election law, then they are being affected in Texas by violation of law, and they don’t want that to happen. They’re trying to make sure that election law is kept sacrosanct and that the Constitution is not violated. It’s a big case.”
Texas filed a motion for leave to file a “Bill of Complaint” with the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge the constitutionality of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin’s administration of the 2020 presidential election. The Supreme Court gave the states being sued a deadline of 3 p.m. Dec. 10 to file a response to Texas’ suit. Texas’ filing, which includes a request for expedited review and a preliminary injunction, runs more than 150 pages.
Under the Constitution, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over certain types of cases, including those involving disputes between states. However, the court has to agree to hear the dispute, which is why Texas is asking for permission to file its suit.
“In its memorandum in support of its motion, Texas argues that the case ‘presents constitutional questions of immense national consequences,’ namely that the 2020 election suffered from serious constitutional irregularities, including violations by the defendant states of the Electors Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution,” Margot Cleveland writes in The Federalist. “The brief also argues that a ruling would help ‘preserve the Constitution and help prevent irregularities in future elections’.”
Along with its Motion for Leave to File a Bill of Complaint, Texas also filed a Motion for Expedited Consideration of its motions, including its second motion, a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, Temporary Restraining Order, or Alternatively a Stay. In this latter motion, Texas asks the court to order Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania not to take any action to certify presidential electors, participate in the Electoral College, or vote for a presidential candidate until the Supreme Court resolves Texas’s lawsuit.
Noting that federal law establishes Dec. 8 as a safe harbor for certifying presidential electors, that the Electoral College votes on Dec. 14, and the House of Representatives counts votes on Jan. 6, Texas implores the court to expedite the proceeding, as “absent some form of relief, the defendants will appoint electors based on unconstitutional and deeply uncertain election results.”
Count 1 – States Violated the Electors Clause
Notwithstanding some (mostly liberal) pundits calling the Texas lawsuit a “Hail Mary” attempt to block the outcome of the 2020 election, the Lone Star State’s complaint presents serious constitutional issues. Those issues, as Texas puts it, far exceed the electoral irregularities of “the hanging-chad saga of the 2000 (Bush-Gore) election.”
In its Bill of Complaint, filed along with its Motion for Leave, Texas presents three constitutional challenges. Count 1 alleges the defendant states violated the Electors Clause of the Constitution.
The Electors Clause of Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution provides “[e]ach state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” As Texas notes, this clause “makes clear that only the legislatures of the States are permitted to determine the rules for appointing presidential electors.”
But, as Texas reveals in its detailed summary of the facts, each of the defendant states, through non-legislative actors, nullified legislatively established election laws in violation of the Electors Clause. For example, The Federalist reports and the lawsuit alleges, several large Wisconsin counties used drop boxes in direct violation of the Wisconsin Election Code that provides detailed procedures by which municipalities may designate sites for the acceptance of absentee ballots. Wisconsin election officials also ignored the statutory certification requirements for absentee ballots, counting votes that the state legislature defined as illegal because they did not include a witness signature and address.
Michigan election officials likewise violated the statutory mandates established by the state legislature, with the secretary of state mass mailing absentee ballots in contravention of state law. And in Wayne County, the home of Detroit’s Democratic stronghold, election officials ignored the state’s signature verification requirement. Georgia also violated the legislature’s requirement for signature verifications, according to Texas’s complaint.
The most egregious violations alleged came from Pennsylvania, where election officials ignored the statutory bar on inspecting ballots before election day, then illegally provided voter information to third parties and allowed illegal curing of the ballots. Significantly, in Pennsylvania these illegal practices only occurred in Democratic strongholds, with Republicans following the law.
These and other practices, Texas alleges, establish a clear violation of the Electors Clause, because that clause makes clear that it is the state legislature—and not administrative agencies, election officials, or even courts—charged under our constitutional system with selecting electors. (This argument finds support in the three-justice concurrence authored by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist in Bush v. Gore.) From there, Texas’s Count 1 argues that “electors appointed to Electoral College in violation of the Electors Clause cannot cast constitutionally valid votes for the office of President.”
Count 2 – States Violated the Equal Protection Clause
In Count 2, Texas relied on the same facts, then asserted an Equal Protection claim, premised on the reasoning of the majority opinion in Bush v. Gore. In Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution is violated when states apply differing standards for judging the legality of votes cast for president.
“The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise,” the Supreme Court wrote. “Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise. Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another.”
Then, citing its detailed statement of the facts, which highlighted the defendant states’ disparate treatment of voters, Texas argues in Count 2 that “equal protection violations in one State can and do adversely affect and diminish the weight of votes cast in States that lawfully abide by the election structure set forth in the Constitution.”
Count 3 – States Violated the Due Process Clause
Finally, in Count 3, Texas asserts a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Constitution. This claim is premised on Texas’s allegation that the election practices of the defendant states in 2020 reached “the point of patent and fundamental unfairness,” thus violating substantive due process.
These three counts, and the detailed facts Texas alleges, make clear that Texas’s beef is not with the states’ election laws, but with the states’ violation of their own election laws, in contravention of the U.S. Constitution.
Seventeen other states have filed briefs supporting Texas’ suit.
Texas’ Standing to Sue
Merely alleging the defendant states violated the Constitution, however, is not enough. Texas must also establish that it has “standing” to sue, meaning it has been injured in a way entitling it to stand before the court and seek redress. In its Motion for Leave, Texas argues at great length that it has standing, and presents three separate bases for it.
First, Texas claims the right to present the constitutional claims of its citizens, who “have the right to demand that all other States abide by the constitutionally set rules in appointing presidential electors to the electoral college.”
Second, Texas “presses its own form of voting-rights injury as States” premised on the structure of the Constitution. “Whereas the House represents the People proportionally, the Senate represents the States,” Texas notes. Thus, “[w]hile Americans likely care more about who is elected President, the States have a distinct interest in who is elected Vice President and thus who can cast the tiebreaking vote in the Senate,” the Texas brief stresses. “Through that interest,” the brief continues:
States suffer an Article III injury when another State violates federal law to affect the outcome of a presidential election. This injury is particularly acute in 2020, where a Senate majority often will hang on the Vice President’s tie-breaking vote because of the nearly equal — and, depending on the outcome of Georgia run-off elections in January, possibly equal — balance between political parties. Quite simply, it is vitally important to the States who becomes Vice President.
Finally, Texas argues it has standing to sue as a representative of the state’s “electors.” These electors, Texas argues, suffer a “legislative injury whenever allegedly improper actions deny them a working majority.” Since “[t]he electoral college is a zero-sum game,” the unconstitutional appointment of electors in other states injures Texas’s electors, according to the briefing.
Texas is Not Seeking to Overturn the Election
These injuries, Texas asserts, demand a remedy. But the remedy sought is not what some may surmise is the goal—a second term for President Trump. No, what Texas seeks is for the Supreme Court to mandate that the defendant states comply with the Constitution, and that means that electors are selected by the states’ legislatures. Texas makes this point clear, stressing: “Plaintiff State does not ask this Court to decide who won the election; they only ask that the Court enjoin the clear violations of the Electors Clause of the Constitution.”
Texas’ filing includes the following:
Our Country stands at an important crossroads. Either the Constitution matters and must be followed, even when some officials consider it inconvenient of our of date, or it is simply a piece of parchment on display at the National Archives. We ask the Court to choose the former.