The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Supreme Court dismisses bid led by Texas attorney general to overturn the presidential election results, blocking Trump’s legal path to a reversal of his loss

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed a long-shot bid by President Trump and the state of Texas to overturn the results in four states won by Democrat Joe Biden, blocking the president’s legal path to reverse his reelection loss.

The court’s unsigned order was short, and it denied Texas’s request to sue Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin over how they conducted their elections. Texas has not shown it has a legal interest “in the manner in which another state conducts its elections,” the order said. It dismissed all pending motions about the case.

Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Clarence Thomas said they did not think the court had the authority to simply reject a state’s filing, a position they have taken in past cases. But they said they would not have granted Texas the remedy it sought, which was to disallow the electors from those four states.

Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin on Dec. 10 urged the Supreme Court to reject a lawsuit filed by Texas to overturn the results of the election. (Video: Reuters)

Legal experts from the beginning had derided Texas’s unprecedented action as implausible, and the court’s rejection was fast and emphatic — the order came just hours after briefing was completed. The justices seemed to have bypassed a lengthy explanation in favor of a unified outcome.

Taking into account an earlier request from Republicans in Pennsylvania, it means that in two cases to reach the court — where conservatives hold a ­6-to-3 majority — no justice has expressed support for the drastic idea of throwing out election results.

Trump, who has appointed three of the court’s nine members, has long viewed the Supreme Court as something of an ace in the hole, and on Friday, he called for the justices to display “courage” and rescue him in post-election litigation. But his entreaties fell on deaf ears.

“The Supreme Court really let us down. No Wisdom, No Courage!” Trump tweeted several hours after the court order.

After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September, Trump said that filling the seat was essential because of the possibility of litigation that might otherwise end in a tie. Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed in a party-line vote by the Republican-controlled Senate to replace Ginsburg.

Trump and GOP allies turn up pressure on Supreme Court in election assault

In a case earlier this week, the court, in a one-sentence order, turned down a plea from Republican congressional candidates to overturn the results in Pennsylvania. Barrett took part in the case, but neither she nor fellow Trump appointees Neil M. Gorsuch or Brett M. Kavanaugh noted any objection.

Trump has refused to acknowledge defeat, instead embarking on a noisy campaign to discredit the election, which he continued on Twitter early Saturday. He has made unproved allegations of corruption and electoral rigging in states he lost. And he has made unsubstantiated assertions of illegal voting; votes being switched by computer software; and rampant fraud.

None have come close to being proved, and Attorney General William P. Barr said U.S. attorneys and FBI agents running down specific complaints and information “have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

Legal efforts by Trump and his allies filed in states he lost have been stunningly unsuccessful — one minor win compared with more than 50 losses in state and federal courts at both the trial and appellate levels.

In one case that reached the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, the rejection was delivered by a judge Trump had nominated.

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious,” wrote Judge Stephanos Bibas. “But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof.”

Lawsuits continue around the country, and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani said on Newsmax, “We’re not finished, believe me.” But the Texas case was the one upon which the president and his allies had pinned their hopes, and time is almost up.

The election results have been certified in each state, and the electoral college is to meet Monday. Biden has 306 electoral votes, exactly the number Trump had when he was elected in 2016. But while Trump lost the popular vote then, Biden has an advantage of more than 7 million votes.

Texas, led by Attorney General Ken Paxton (R), a Trump partisan, tried to maneuver around the lower-court losses by filing directly with the Supreme Court. States suing other states are allowed to ask the court to take up such cases, although the court sometimes does not grant permission.

Paxton said, “It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court decided not to take this case and determine the constitutionality of these four states’ failure to follow federal and state election law.”

Texas alleged that actions by state officials in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin violated the Constitution and diluted the impact of Texas votes.

Its major complaint was that state officials and courts in those states had changed election procedures to make it easier to vote by mail or other methods. It said those changes violated the Constitution’s direction that “the legislature” of each state set voting procedures.

It asked the justices to block those states from casting their combined 62 electoral votes for Biden and order the state legislatures, all Republican-controlled, to appoint new electors or none at all. That would require the court to set aside the results in those states, which Biden won by a combined 300,000 votes.

Trump asked to intervene in the suit, and 17 attorneys general from states where Trump won joined in — even though some had voting procedures altered by state officials or courts in those states. A majority of House Republicans urged the Supreme Court to take the case.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the Supreme Court was right to dismiss the “extreme, unlawful and undemocratic GOP lawsuit” and that the 126 congressional Republicans who endorsed it “brought dishonor to the House.”

The targeted states responded in blistering briefs, with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro calling the Texas suit a “seditious abuse of the judicial process.”

Wisconsin Attorney General Joshua L. Kaul (D) said that agreeing to the Texas request would thrust the Supreme Court into the political sphere in a way never imagined.

“If Texas’s theory of injury were accepted, it would be too easy to reframe virtually any election or voting rights dispute as implicating injuries to a state and thereby invoke this court’s original jurisdiction,” he wrote.

“New York or California could sue Texas or Alabama in this court over their felon-disenfranchisement policies. Garden-variety election disputes would soon come to the court in droves,” he wrote.

The states said Texas’s claims were hypocritical and cynical. Although Texas said in a filing that it “does not ask this court to reelect President Trump,” the suit does not ask the court to discount the votes in any state Trump won where state officials and courts had altered voting procedures because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Among those states are Texas itself, where the governor made changes.

The case is Texas v. Pennsylvania.

Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.