Jurisprudence

The Supreme Court Shoots Down Texas’ Radical Attempt to Overturn the Election

The Supreme Court at dusk.
Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

On Friday evening, the Supreme Court shot down an attempt by Texas to overturn the outcome of the 2020 election. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the justices to nullify every vote cast in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, then direct the legislatures of each state to appoint their electors to Donald Trump. The Republican attorneys general of 17 states, as well as 126 Republican members of Congress, supported Paxton’s lawsuit. In a brief order, however, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas lacks standing to meddle in another state’s election processes, curtly killing the case.

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Paxton’s case was frivolous from the start, and looked more like a plea for a pardon from Trump than a real legal filing. (He is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for bribery and abuse of office.) The attorney general promoted claims of widespread voter fraud that have been definitively debunked, asserting that this nonexistent corruption rendered the election illegitimate. To vindicate the Constitution, Paxton declared, the court had to throw out the results in four states that voted for President-elect Joe Biden and award each state’s electors to Trump.

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There is literally no legal basis for any aspect of this argument, which would represent a stunning intrusion of the authority of each state to conduct its own elections—as well a shocking violation of the voting rights of millions of Americans. Paxton asked for nothing less than mass vote nullification on a scale unprecedented in American history on the basis of provable falsehoods. Yet a sizable majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives, as well as among Republican attorneys general, still demanded this radical, anti-democratic remedy.

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Thankfully, the Supreme Court swiftly shut down this nonsense. The court’s order explained that “Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.” In other words, Paxton failed to explain how other states’ elections injured Texas (because they didn’t). Thus, Texas has no standing to bring a suit. Case dismissed.

Friday’s decision was not technically unanimous because of an idiosyncratic view adopted by Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Both justices believe the court is required to take up any lawsuit between two or more states and cannot simply deny the filing in such a case. Thus, Alito, joined by Thomas, wrote a brief statement explaining this position. He hastened to add that while he felt obligated to permit Texas’ filing, he “would not grant other relief, and I express no view on any other issue.” That means neither Alito nor Thomas would’ve granted Paxton’s request to overturn the election.

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Still, the fact that so many powerful Republican politicians endorsed Paxton’s Hail Mary is a profoundly disturbing sign for American democracy. These lawmakers sought to reverse the outcome of a democratic election by voiding millions of perfectly legal votes. They appear to believe that a presidential race won by a Democrat is fundamentally illegitimate, as only Republicans should be allowed to govern the nation. This cynical effort to wrest victory from Biden, who beat Trump in the Electoral College 306–232, trounced him by more than 7 million votes, and earned more votes than any candidate in history (81 million), spells trouble ahead for a Constitution that presumes lawmakers will act in something approximating good faith. And it further demonstrates the radicalization of the conservative legal movement, which is now dominated by proud enemies of the most basic tenets of democracy, like the idea that the candidate with the most votes wins.

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There was never any real chance that the Supreme Court would take up Paxton’s case, let alone rule in his favor. Trump deemed this lawsuit the “big one” and personally intervened on Texas’ side. But the suit was plainly doomed from the start. This court is extremely conservative, but none of its members would try to get away with such a blatantly partisan and unconstitutional power grab that might plunge the nation into unimaginable chaos. Friday’s decision tells us nothing about the justices and is not a sign of moderation at the Supreme Court. It merely demonstrates, once again, that Republicans’ postelection litigation is too deranged for any court to seriously entertain.

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