WASHINGTON — Briskly rejecting a long-shot but high-stakes case, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday tossed out the Texas lawsuit that had become a vehicle for Republicans across the country to contest President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
In a few brief sentences, the high court said it would not consider the case for procedural reasons, because Texas lacked standing to bring it.
"Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections," the court wrote in an unsigned ruling Friday evening.
With Electoral College deadlines rapidly approaching, the ruling likely ends President Donald Trump's bid to overturn the election results through the courts. The Texas attorney general's office did not immediately return a request for comment Friday.
Texas this week sued to challenge the election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin on the basis that those states implemented pandemic-related changes to election procedures that, Texas claimed, were illegal and cast into question the election results. Those battleground states shot back, in harsh reply briefs, that Texas had no business challenging the election protocols of other states.
Legal experts warned that if Texas succeeded, the case would set a dangerous precedent of allowing states to intervene in each others’ affairs — and allowing courts to overturn settled, certified election results.
“Let us be clear,” attorneys for Pennsylvania wrote in the state’s reply brief. “Texas invites this Court to overthrow the votes of the American people and choose the next President of the United States. That Faustian invitation must be firmly rejected.”
Texas’ lawsuit leaned heavily on discredited claims of election fraud in swing states. Election officials and U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr have said there is no evidence of election fraud on a scale that could have swayed the results.
The lawsuit quickly grew into a dividing line for blue and red states across the country — and, for Republicans, a test of loyalty to outgoing President Donald Trump. Some Republican-led states refused to side with Trump in the case; Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said “the legally correct decision may not be the politically convenient decision.” But more Republican states chose to join it.
Trump — and Republicans across the country — had pinned their hopes on the Texas suit, with Trump himself intervening. In a series of tweets, the president called it “the big one” and later added, “it is very strong, ALL CRITERIA MET.”
By Thursday, it had drawn the involvement of nearly every state, with more than a dozen weighing in on each side, as well as the endorsement of more than 100 members of the U.S. House, including more than a dozen Texas Republicans: U.S. Reps. Jodey Arrington, Brian Babin, Kevin Brady, Michael Burgess, Michael Cloud, Mike Conaway, Dan Crenshaw, Bill Flores, Louie Gohmert, Lance Gooden, Kenny Marchant, Randy Weber, Roger Williams and Ron Wright.
Legal experts called the lawsuit dangerous and unprecedented in its aims. “Garbage, but dangerous garbage,” was how elections law expert Rick Hasen put it. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Texas Republican who once served as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s top deputy, called the case “a dangerous violation of federalism” that “will almost certainly fail.”
The case was a Hail Mary play for Trump, who hoped the court would hand him a victory that the voters did not. His campaign has filed dozens of lawsuits across the country in an overwhelmingly unsuccessful bid to overturn the election.
But the case carried high stakes, too, for Paxton, who filed it at a nadir in his two-decade rollercoaster of a political career. Paxton found himself back in the spotlight and at the center of the conservative media ecosystem this week to tout his pro-Trump efforts — even as the FBI served a subpoena at the Texas attorney general’s office as part of a probe into his alleged criminal activity, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Eight senior aides told authorities they believed Paxton broke the law in using the agency to do favors for a political donor, Nate Paul. Their allegations have reportedly sparked an FBI investigation.
Critics have speculated that Paxton may have been using the lawsuit as a way to angle for a presidential pardon from Trump. A spokesman for Paxton dismissed that suggestion as “an absurdly laughable conspiracy theory.”
Separate from the latest allegations, Paxton was indicted in 2015 on felony securities fraud charges but has yet to stand trial amid side battles over venue and prosecutor pay. Currently, the case is delayed indefinitely as a Houston appeals court weighs the venue issue.
A presidential pardon does not protect against prosecution for state or local crimes.
Claims and facts of the lawsuit from the Associated Press
THE LAWSUIT CLAIMS: The four states that Texas is suing “usurped their legislatures' authority and unconstitutionally revised their state's election statutes.”
THE FACTS: Trump and his allies have lost many cases making the argument that only state legislatures could modify election practices during the coronavirus pandemic. This lawsuit rehashes arguments already rejected by courts siding with officials who acted under their respective state laws.
For example, the lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania “unconstitutionally did away” with “statutory signature verification requirements.” But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously ruled in October that state law makes it clear only that the ballot envelope requires the voter’s signature, but not a matching signature.
Among the states that changed voting practices without legislative action this year is Texas, which extended early voting by six days due to the pandemic.
THE LAWSUIT CLAIMS: Given Trump's lead in the four states “as of 3 a.m." the morning after the election, Biden's chances of winning all four was “less than one in a quadrillion.”
THE FACTS: What sounds like a statistically significant figure isn't grounded in what experts before the election predicted: In-person votes counted more quickly would likely favor Trump and mail-in votes counted later would favor Biden.
Democrats for months pushed voters to submit mail-in ballots that would be counted later, while Trump attacked mail-in voting as fraudulent even though he voted by mail in Florida. Republican legislative leaders in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all resisted pleas from election officials to updatethe laws to allow for a speedier count.
The idea that Trump would have large initial leads came as no surprise and does not prove any malfeasance or fraud happened.
THE LAWSUIT CLAIMS: There are “facts for which no independently verified reasonable explanation yet exists.”
THE FACTS: Each of the listed "facts” has an independently verified explanation.
A laptop and thumb drives were stolen on Oct. 1 from a city warehouse in Philadelphia. A spokesman for the city elections commission said then, “We are confident that this incident will not in any way compromise the integrity of the election.” The local district attorney said days later that police found the theft was unrelated to the election, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
There was briefly a tabulation problem that involved a few thousand votes in Republican-leaning Antrim County, Michigan. But it wasn't caused by voting machines. "There was no malice, no fraud here, just human error,” County Clerk Sheryl Guy said.
And Milwaukee's chief elections official, Claire Woodall-Vogg, did leave behind one flash drive with absentee vote tallies when she was delivering a batch of flash drives to the local elections commission, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Woodall-Vogg said she called a team member and a police officer delivered the last drive. Despite what the lawsuit says, Woodall-Vogg said the drive was “never left unattended.”
THE LAWSUIT CLAIMS: Texas has a right “to demand that all other States abide by the constitutionally set rules in appointing presidential electors to the electoral college.” It says other states are harmed when one state “violates federal law to affect the outcome of a presidential election.”
THE FACTS: Legal experts say Texas has no right to bring the case in the first place because it doesn’t get a say in how other states run their elections and has not suffered any real harm. And even if it did have a legitimate case, it was brought too late, experts say.
“Texas does not have standing in federal court to vindicate the voting rights of other states’ voters — much less standing to undercut the rights of those voters,” Lisa Marshall Manheim, a professor at the University of Washington Law School, wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post.
Some Texas Republicans agree. U.S. Rep. Chip Roy tweeted he would not join the case because “I believe the case itself represents a dangerous violation of federalism & sets a precedent to have one state asking federal courts to police the voting procedures of other states.”
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.