The Supreme Court’s refusal to grapple with 2020 presidential election lawsuits concerning patently dubious policymaking by judges in Pennsylvania is a dereliction of duty of the highest order.
Its unwillingness to grant certiorari is particularly glaring because the claims of malfeasance are so straightforward, the issues at hand are so fundamental, and the imperative to adjudicate them is so acute, given the likeliness for them to recur and influence future elections.
The cases concern who makes the election rules: state legislators, or nonlegislative officials, including judges. The Constitution would seem to indicate the former, given that it’s state legislatures tasked with determining the “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives,” as well as the “Manner” by which electors are appointed.
“The Pennsylvania Legislature established an unambiguous deadline for receiving mail-in ballots: 8 p.m. on Election Day. Dissatisfied, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court extended that deadline by three days. The court also ordered officials to count ballots received by the new deadline even if there was no evidence—such as a postmark—that the ballots were mailed by Election Day.”
“These cases provide us,” Thomas asserted, “with an ideal opportunity to address just what authority nonlegislative officials have to set election rules, and to do so well before the next election cycle.
“The refusal to do so,” he concluded, “is inexplicable.”
Indeed. If election rules can be altered at any time, under any circumstance, by authorities other than elected representatives—even if said rule changes are reasonable and don’t promote lawlessness—the entire election process becomes tainted. The damage to the separation of powers is a secondary but no less devastating consequence.
Consider the other institutions that have failed us.
State governments of course permitted, or at best failed to thwart, the chicanery that transpired during the election under cover of the extraordinary circumstance of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
That political institutions provided no recourse—and, in some cases, clearly violated their duties—is a betrayal of the system from which they derive power. Republican government relies on the consent of the governed, who provide it through their votes. The legitimacy of those votes undergirds the legitimacy of the entire constitutional order. Once the vote is seen as illegitimate, and every venue is seen as hostile to if not reflexively dismissive of questions about it, the entire system loses its legitimacy.
To the extent that pending legislation in Congress does pass, and America finds itself further unmoored from a system in which election rules are set well in advance by our representatives—in which we vote in person, having verified our identity, on a single Election Day—this confidence will only further wane.
The question we are left asking is, who will restore confidence in our system by defending our vote?