The Supreme Court’s order Friday tossing out Texas’ attempt to void millions of votes in four states and help President Donald Trump capture a second term was clear and concise.
Texas didn’t have the right to sue Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin over their election rules and laws. Meaning the case was over and done.
No dissents were issued.
But Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas made a separate legal point. They issued a statement – and importantly, not a dissent – accompanying the order saying that the court shouldn’t summarily block the types of lawsuits Texas brought. But they also said this one wasn’t worthwhile. Meaning the case was over and done.
The Supreme Court has long been opaque to the American public. It doesn’t allow television cameras. Recording devices are banned in courtroom. Opinions and orders are issued on its website with little explanation for non-experts and experts alike.
Oyez, Oyez, Oyez, here’s what you need to know about Friday’s action:
What was Texas seeking?
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton brought an unexpected and unprecedented lawsuit Monday night against the four battleground states, citing evidence of widespread voter fraud that federal and state courts have repeatedly rejected. Paxton’s overall argument was based on an interpretation of Article II in the US Constitution. “Thus, only the State legislatures are permitted to create or modify the respective State’s rules for the appointment of presidential electors,” Paxton wrote.
Therefore, Paxton – later joined by Trump, 126 Republican members of Congress and 18 GOP attorneys general – argued, changes in voter laws and actions in the four states, many due to the coronavirus pandemic, were invalid and those ballots must be tossed. That especially meant mail-in ballots, which were primarily cast for Joe Biden. Take out those votes, and Trump wins those states. Or if nobody wins, nobody would get the 270 electoral votes and the House of Representatives would decide the election. And Trump would win.
How was Texas allowed to sue?
In the end, it wasn’t.
Paxton’s approach was based on “original jurisdiction” – the idea that states can sue one another at the Supreme Court if there’s no other remedy available. Generally it’s been about issues like water rights (one Florida-Georgia dispute has gone on for years).
It would have taken five of the justices to vote to hear the case. None agreed.
The three sentence ruling in full:
“The State of Texas’s motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution. Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections. All other pending motions are dismissed as moot.”
So what was the Alito and Thomas statement about?
The two conservative justices have taken a more expansive view of original jurisdiction, leaning toward the idea that the court is obligated to look at these disputes. That doesn’t mean holding oral arguments or a trial or such, but it means something beyond simply closing the courthouse door.
Alito wrote, and Thomas agreed, that the court didn’t have a choice to shut the door on Texas.
Previously, the two dissented when Arizona sought to sue California – again, over water rights. Earlier this year, they wrote that the justices “likely do not have discretion to decline review in cases within our original jurisdiction that arise between two or more States.”
Friday, they repeated that logic.
The statement in full:
“Statement of Justice Alito, with whom Justice Thomas joins: In my view, we do not have discretion to deny the filing of a bill of complaint in a case that falls within our original jurisdiction. See Arizona v. California, 589 U. S. ___ (Feb. 24, 2020) (Thomas, J., dissenting). I would therefore grant the motion to file the bill of complaint but would not grant other relief, and I express no view on any other issue.”
Isn’t that a dissent?
Because it’s not listed as one. Court orders and opinions will clearly and definitive say when a justice dissents.
Why does this matter? They disagreed.
The court under Chief Justice John Roberts has tried to steer clear of the political arena, generally an impossible task.
Here, there would have been concern that any public indication – such as one Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued in October in a concurring opinion that gave hope to those who agree with the “state legislature only” concept – could have further exacerbated the fight over the presidential election. It’s already featured dozens of lawsuits from Trump and his allies that have failed in state and federal courts.
Speaking with one voice to stop it was important.
“Even Justice Thomas and Alito, who might otherwise have been sympathetic to these challenges, went out of their way to express that they would grant no relief on the merits,” said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and University of Texas Law School professor. “From a legal perspective, the fat lady has sung.”
Is there a simpler way of saying all this?
Yes, provided by Sarah Isgur, who tweeted this:
“From a wise friend: So, just so I understand what the Alito/Thomas blurb is about, SCOTUS is effectively saying ‘get the eff off my lawn’ while Alito/Thomas are like ‘you’re welcome to ring the doorbell but no way are we opening the door to you weirdos?’ EXACTLY”
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue and Joan Biskupic contributed to this report.