In rejecting election lawsuit that sought to throw out 20 million votes in 4 key states, Supreme Court justices deliver a rebuke to GOP
By Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corasaniti
The New York Times|
Dec 12, 2020 at 9:19 PM
The Supreme Court repudiation of President Donald Trump’s desperate bid for a second term not only shredded his effort to overturn the will of voters: It also was a blunt rebuke to Republican leaders in Congress and the states that were willing to damage American democracy by embracing a partisan power grab over a free and fair election.
The court’s decision on Friday night, an inflection point after weeks of legal flailing by Trump and ahead of the Electoral College vote for President-elect Joe Biden on Monday, leaves the president’s party in an extraordinary position. Through their explicit endorsements or complicity of silence, much of the GOP leadership now shares responsibility for the quixotic attempt to ignore the nation’s founding principles and engineer a different verdict from the one voters cast in November.
Many regular Republicans supported this effort, too — a sign that Trump has not just bent the party to his will, but pressed a mainstay of American politics for nearly two centuries into the service of overturning an election outcome and assaulting public faith in the electoral system. The GOP sought to undo the vote by such spurious means that the Supreme Court quickly rejected the argument.
Even some Republican leaders delivered a withering assessment of the 126 GOP House members and 18 attorneys general who chose to side with Trump over the democratic process, by backing a lawsuit that asked the Supreme Court to throw out some 20 million votes in four key states that cemented the president’s loss.
“The act itself by the 126 members of the United States House of Representatives, is an affront to the country,” said Michael Steele, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. “It’s an offense to the Constitution and it leaves an indelible stain that will be hard for these 126 members to wipe off their political skin for a long time to come.”
Speaking on CNN on Friday, Gov. Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, a Republican, said, “What happened with the Supreme Court, that’s kind of it, where they’ve kind of exhausted all the legal challenges; we’ve got to move on.” It was time, he said, for Congress to “actually do something for the American people, surrounding the vaccines, surrounding COVID.”
With direct buy-in from senior officials like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the president’s effort required the party to promote false theory upon unsubstantiated claim upon outright lie about unproved, widespread fraud — in an election that Republican and Democratic election officials agreed was notably smooth given the challenges of the pandemic.
And it meant that Republican leaders now stand for a new notion: that the final decisions of voters can be challenged without a basis in fact if the results are not to the liking of the losing side, running counter to decades of work by the United States to convince developing nations that peaceful transfers of power are key to any freely elected government’s credibility.
“From a global perspective this certainly looks like many of the cases we’ve seen around the world where an incumbent tries to hold onto power,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, a Washington-based group that promotes democracy abroad with support from both parties.
Though the decisions by the Supreme Court and other courts meant that in the end, American “institutions have held strong,” he added, “there’s no question that people around the world are now looking to America and it’s really important for Americans of all parties to stand up for the rule of law and for democracy.”
Republicans who have resisted Trump’s campaign agreed, predicting that the party was risking its own destruction.
“I keep comparing it somewhat to Jonestown,” said former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, referring to the cult that ended in a tragic mass suicide. “They’ve all drunk the Kool Aid. It just hasn’t killed them yet.”
Following the court decision, one of the 126 House Republicans who backed the lawsuit, Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas, said that the court’s decision meant the end of Trump’s efforts and “closed the books on challenges to the 2020 election results.”
Democrats took heart in the court’s decision in the case filed by the Republican attorney general of Texas, one of several dozen that judges have soundly rejected on legal or factual bases, even if more lawsuits are certain to come ahead of Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.
“Our democracy has withstood Donald Trump for four years,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., ranking member of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees election law. “It can withstand these baseless lawsuits for four more weeks.”
On Saturday, Trump lost yet another court case, as a federal judge in Wisconsin — Judge Brett Ludwig, who was appointed to the court by Trump this year — said his claims “fail as a matter of law and fact.” The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning Trump is barred from bringing cases on similar grounds in that district.
But civil rights attorneys saw the potential for long-lasting damage outside of the legal realm where the Republican efforts — and the lie that Biden’s win was the result of widespread fraud — have so definitively failed.
Republican state legislators across the country are already contemplating new laws to make voting harder, as they continue to falsely portray the expansion and ease of mail-in voting during the pandemic as nefarious. Many of them view this year’s expanded voting ranks as bad for their party, despite Republican successes further down the ballot. Their consideration of new voting restrictions amounts to an ongoing attack on the integrity of the voting system, involving still more false and debunked claims.
“There is an anti-democratic virus that has spread in mainstream Republicanism, among mainstream Republican elected officials,” said Dale Ho, director of the Voting Rights Project at the ACLU. “And that loss of faith in the machinery of democracy is a much bigger problem than any individual lawsuit.”
Indeed, after the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Texas Republican Party effectively called for secession by red states whose attorneys general joined in the Texas suit.
“Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the Constitution,” a statement from its chairman, Allen West, read. It followed an observation Rush Limbaugh made earlier in the week, when he said, “I actually think that we’re trending toward secession.”
The talk of secession came during a week in which election officials across the country, from both political parties, said they had become the subjects of menacing threats of violence, including to family members, for standing by Biden’s victory.
A website of unknown provenance that caught the attention of law enforcement appeared to promote a hit list of mostly Republican officials who had resisted Trump’s demands to overturn an election he lost, listing their personal information and imposing red cross hairs over their pictures.
Trump made it clear that the Supreme Court decision would not slow a post-campaign campaign, the futility of which has dampened neither its ferocity nor its pertinacity. On Twitter, Trump on Saturday called it a “disgraceful miscarriage of justice” and wrote “WE HAVE JUST BEGUN TO FIGHT!!!”
Hours before the court made its decision public the Trump campaign released two ads repeating debunked allegations, indicating it would continue to pressure elected Republican officials to somehow reverse Trump’s political fate. “Demand an honest election and an honest count, contact your legislators today,” one ad exhorted. (The campaign claimed that the ads would begin airing on cable television on Saturday morning, but at least one ad tracking firm said they had not seen any reservations made as of Friday night.)
There is one inescapable reality that is driving many party leaders to embrace the president’s position, as antithetical as it is to democracy. “Donald Trump is still the 800-pound gorilla in the Republican room — he’s the biggest gravitational force that’s probably ever existed in the party,” said Christopher Ruddy, CEO of the conservative network Newsmax.
Trump’s popular vote tally of 74 million would have been the largest in American history had Biden not outdone him by 7 million votes. And, Ruddy noted, “Republican voters are up in arms, they feel this election was not fairly accounted for.”
Ruddy’s network has something to do with that; it has gained on the behemoth of conservative television, Fox News, by heavily promoting Trump’s voter-fraud allegations. In doing so Newsmax has helped set off a competition with Fox News’ more strident hosts, as well as those of the smaller conservative channel One America News, to give Trump and his voters what they want: A counter to the reality that Trump soon will be leaving office.
Whatever their primary sources of information, Republicans overwhelmingly view the election as fatally flawed; a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday found that only 23% of registered Republican voters — and slightly less than half of all white men who are registered to vote — said they believed Biden’s victory was legitimate.
Those doubters do not represent a majority of Americans; 60% of registered voters overall said they accepted the results. But they form the core of the Republican base, and the party’s leaders have proved continually unwilling to go against them — especially with a critical runoff looming in Georgia that will determine partisan control of the Senate.
Even after Trump’s loss, catering to the wishes of Republican voters has meant aping the president’s own paranoid style of politics by clinging to supposed examples of fraud even after they have been debunked in court.
For instance, last month Graham said during an interview on “Fox & Friends” that a signature verification machine in Clark County, Nevada, which encompasses Las Vegas, was used improperly to accept “every signature whether it was fraudulent or not.” In the same interview, he shared an allegation that people in the county were spotted filling out fraudulent ballots on “a Biden/Harris truck.”
Those allegations were contained in a lawsuit Republicans filed in the state. Last week a judge found that the signature machine in question had, in fact, sent 70% of the signatures it scanned back to election workers for human verification. “The record does not support” allegations that the machine “accepted signatures that should have been rejected,” wrote the judge, James Russell. Similarly, he ruled, a witness account about false ballots filled out on a Biden/Harris vehicle was “not credible.”
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On Friday, a spokesman for Graham declined to address those findings and said the senator “continues to have grave concerns about the expanded use of mail in ballots.”
In a hearing about the 2020 election in Wisconsin led by statehouse Republicans on Friday, witnesses suggested the state faced election interference from the dead dictators Hugo Chávez and Josef Stalin, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Kanye West.
Some of the claims were similar to conspiracy theories contained in suits filed by a conservative lawyer, Sidney Powell, whose attempts to overturn the election results have been regularly rejected by judges. One wrote that a case she brought on behalf of Republican plaintiffs seemed to have been “more about the impact of their allegations on people’s faith in the democratic process” as well as “trust in our government.”
Tom Rath, a former Republican attorney general of New Hampshire, who endorsed Biden and opposed his party’s effort at the Supreme Court, lamented what seemed to be political incentives within his party to shake that trust. “It’s very unfortunate,” he said, “that some people tried to live off that chaos, perpetuate it and make it even more difficult for the average citizen to trust what government’s doing.”
Rath, who advised the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, added, “We’re in a very bad place as a party.”