WASHINGTON (AP) — Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling in a major election case was bad news for John Eastman, the Trump-aligned lawyer who pushed a novel legal theory in his bid to overturn the 2020 election.
Tuesday’s 6-3 ruling rejected a radical version of what has been called the «independent state legislature theory,» which argues that state legislatures have nearly unlimited powers to implement election law, free even from legal review. normal conduct by state courts.
Conservative lawyer Eastman had embraced the theory as part of his widely discredited argument that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to refuse to certify the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Then it failed, and the new Supreme Court ruling made it clear that it and similar far-fetched theories won’t work in the 2024 election either.
Eastman expressed disappointment with the ruling, saying in an email exchange that when it comes to presidential elections, «a legislature will be powerless to address issues of blatant illegality and fraud in the conduct of elections in a timely manner.»
Asked if the ruling excludes the arguments he made in 2020, Eastman said: «No. But it will be murkier than before.»
Others think the ruling could help ensure the opposite — that the courts won’t be inundated with questionable judgments two years from now — though election lawyers aren’t holding their breath.
«I hope this is the nail in the coffin to finally bring closure to these very extreme and radical ideas of having rogue legislatures make up rules to preserve power to rig an election,» said Sophia Lin Lakin, a voting rights attorney. at the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Supreme Court made it clear that state legislatures do not have unlimited authority and that, in most cases, state courts, as traditionally understood, can have a say.
The ruling in a redistricting case applied to the Constitution’s Election Clause, which governs the rules for federal elections. But had the court accepted the idea, the legal justification could also have applied to the Electors Clause, which sets out how presidents are chosen.
In 2020, Eastman, who is facing disbarment proceedings in California for his role in trying to overturn the election, suggested as part of his plan for Pence to swing the election for Trump, despite President Joe Biden’s clear victory, that Republican-led legislatures could override the will of the people and instead cast electoral votes for Trump.
in a memorandum Writing at the time, Eastman wrote that the Constitution «assigns to the legislatures of the states the plenary power to determine the manner of electing the presidential electors.»
Citing widely discredited claims of what he called «outright fraud» during the 2020 election, Eastman said Republican legislatures could legally field their own constituents who would vote for Trump.
Eastman’s argument was never put to the test because Pence refused to accept it, but some of the other outlandish claims made in court during the 2020 election also touched on the independent state legislature theory.
Notably, Texas sued directly with the Supreme Court to throw out the results in four states that Biden won because of changes made to state law by the courts or election officials, not the legislature.
Court promptly fired the Texas lawsuit, but concerns remained that he might adopt the independent state legislature theory in another case.
The ruling in the North Carolina case allays some of those fears and leaves some unresolved questions likely to be litigated for years to come.
In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts left the door open for federal courts to overturn state court rulings that deviate too far from their normal role of interpreting state law.
In another 2020 case, the Supreme Court split 4-4 on refuse to block a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that extended the deadline for mail-in ballots due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The court was short-staffed at the time due to the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was quickly succeeded by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett, giving the court its current 6-3 conservative majority.
Legal experts differ in predicting how the court would view a similar case in the future, with conservatives insisting the state court had inappropriately rewritten the law and liberals saying it was simply doing its normal duties interpreting the law. state.
Tuesday’s decision was 6-3, but only two conservative judges, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, indicated an opening to a broad interpretation of the theory.
Andrew Grossman, a conservative lawyer who filed a brief with the Supreme Court urging it to overturn the Pennsylvania court’s ruling in 2020, said the new ruling makes it clear that «there will be some limits» in state courts.
Meanwhile, lawyers across the ideological spectrum expect more litigation, which could include fringe theories similar to those raised in 2020.
«We’ll see cases, but it’s almost certain that unless something weird happens, they’re going to lose a lot,» said Cameron Kistler, an attorney with the voting rights group Protect Democracy.