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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.
Texas sued this week 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 one another’s 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 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.
If the court had heard the case, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said he would have argued it, at the request of Trump.
But U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general and Texas Supreme Court justice, had said he was “not convinced” by the logic of the case.
Court watchers said from the start that the case was a long shot. Trump has indicated that he hoped the high court, which now includes three justices he appointed, would turn the election his way, but the justices have shown no interest in doing so. Earlier this week, the court tossed a similar case from Pennsylvania Republicans attempting to challenge Biden’s win in that battleground state.
Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas indicated they would have allowed Texas to bring the case but said they would "not grant other relief." None of Trump's appointees indicated they saw any merit in the lawsuit.
In a series of tweets after the ruling, Trump raged against the decision, which he called "a disgraceful miscarriage of justice."
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 roller coaster 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 spokesperson 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.
Some Texas Republicans immediately reacted with disappointment and anger.
"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," Paxton said.
State GOP Chair Allen West, clinging to a discredited claim that the battleground states broke the law, seemed to suggest secession was the logical response.
“Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the constitution,” West said in a statement Friday night.
But Michigan's Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, whose state was targeted in the suit, praised the high court for its decision — and struck a very different tone from West.
"Today’s Supreme Court decision is an important reminder that we are a nation of laws, and though some may bend to the desire of a single individual, the courts will not," she said. "Now it’s time to move forward — not as separate states, red or blue — but as united states in the continuing pursuit of a more perfect union.”