Courts throw out GOP, Trump election challenges

President Donald Trump's hopes of reversing his defeat in Pennsylvania through the court system are looking increasingly dim.
REUTERS

President Donald Trump’s campaign had little to be thankful for this past weekend, at least in Pennsylvania.

Courts dealt two major setbacks to the attempt by the president and his supporters to delegitimize the results of the election and invalidate millions of votes in the state, which was won by President-Elect Joe Biden earlier this month.

First, a Philadelphia-based federal appeals court on Friday threw out a Trump campaign lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s electoral process, specifically a state guideline that some counties followed allowing mail-in voters to correct mistakes on their ballots.

A day later, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dismissed a GOP case that sought to deem the state’s recent universal mail-in voting law unconstitutional.

That suit pushed to have the courts throw out all 2.6 million mail-in ballots or grant legislators in Harrisburg the power to select Pennsylvania’s Electoral College delegates.

The justices, a majority of whom are Democrats, overturned a lower court judge, who, last week, ordered that officials halt the process of finalizing the election results.

Justice David Wecht, who wrote the majority opinion, said the legal challenge was filed too late, more than a year after Act 77, which allowed no-excuse mail-in voting, was signed into law and following two elections conducted under the new rules.

No one involved in the suit — a group that includes Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and GOP Congressional candidate Sean Parnell — raised any concerns during the June primary, Wecht said.

“It is not our role to lend legitimacy to such transparent and untimely efforts to subvert the will of Pennsylvania voters,” he wrote. “Courts should not decide elections when the will of the voters is clear.”

A spokesman for Kelly, whose district is in the northwestern part of the state, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor, in a concurring and dissenting opinion, agreed that the lawsuit should not affect this year’s race, but he argued it could be successful in striking down Act 77.

The law was approved by a majority of Democrats and Republicans, but attorneys for Kelly, Parnell and the others claimed it should have required an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

“It’s not over,” tweeted Parnell, who came up short in a bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Conor Lamb. “This was not unexpected. Stay tuned.”

Meanwhile, in the federal case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by the Trump campaign to reopen a lawsuit against election officials in Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and other Democratic-leaning counties.

Trump’s legal team claimed Republicans were at an unfair disadvantage because those counties allowed voters to correct mistakes on their mail-in ballots.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar issued instructions just before Election Day asking local officials to notify residents of defective ballots, but not all counties followed the guidance.

The legal action also claims Republican poll watchers were prevented from observing ballot counting.

Judge Stephanos Bibas, who was appointed by Trump, said the campaign’s claims “have no merit,” writing that attorneys, including Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have not alleged that even a single vote was fraudulent.

“Charges of unfairness are serious,” Bibas said. “But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

“Voters, not lawyers, choose the President,” he wrote later in the document. “Ballots, not briefs, decide elections.”

Bibas said that there is no evidence that Trump’s poll watchers were treated any differently than those representing Biden.

His opinion comes after a similar ruling in the case from an U.S. District Court judge, who referred to the campaign’s disparate arguments as a “Frankenstein’s Monster.”

In a statement, Giuliani and Jenna Ellis, the campaign’s senior legal adviser, indicated they intend to try to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania continues to cover up the allegations of massive fraud,” they said.

Trump spent his Thanksgiving weekend relentlessly tweeting about his unfounded voter fraud theories, some of which specifically targeted Philadelphia.

He grouped the city along with others he considers to be “long known for being politically corrupt,” and claimed that there was “massive voter fraud” in Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta and Milwaukee.

“I won Pennsylvania by a lot, perhaps more than anyone will ever know,” Trump said Saturday on Twitter, which flagged his messages. “The Pennsylvania votes were RIGGED.”

Last Tuesday, state officials certified the results of the presidential election, cementing Biden’s 80,555-vote victory.

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