Court Battles

Supreme Court agrees to hear ‘faithless elector’ cases

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear a pair of cases on the issue of “faithless electors,” members of the Electoral College who choose not to support the presidential candidate picked by the voters in their state.

The move opens the potential for the Supreme Court to impose new rules for the Electoral College amid a presidential race this year.

The court granted the appeals in two cases out of Washington state and Colorado. Those cases challenge laws seeking to keep electors from going against the wishes of voters.

The case in Washington was brought by three Democratic electors who in 2016 opted not to vote for Hillary Clinton, who had won the state. Those electors instead backed Colin Powell, the former Republican secretary of State.

The Colorado lawsuit was brought by another elector who was removed after also declining to cast a vote for Clinton.

In 2016, there were a total of 10 faithless electors. Clinton lost five votes as a result, then President-elect Trump lost two and another three were invalidated by their states.

The lower courts reached opposite conclusions in the cases, with the Washington Supreme Court siding with state officials and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling for the electors.

The Supreme Court is now being asked to decide whether states have the authority to penalize faithless electors.

Washington’s law imposes a fine for rejecting the outcome of the vote and Colorado’s law allows the state to remove electors who refuse to back the candidate who captures the largest number of votes.

According to the nonprofit FairVote, 32 states and the District of Columbia legally require electors to cast their votes for their pledged candidate. Four of them allow faithless electors to be penalized and another 11 give officials the power to cancel their vote or remove them.

“We are thrilled the Supreme Court will take up our cases, and we look forward to our historic day in court. The states had no power to penalize us merely for exercising our right to vote,” Michael Baca, the lead plaintiff in the Colorado case, and Bret Chiafalo, one of the electors in the Washington case, said in a joint statement.

“We are glad the Supreme Court has recognized the paramount importance of clearly determining the rules of the road for presidential electors for the upcoming election and all future elections,” added Lawrence Lessig, the famed Harvard Law professor representing the electors. “My team and I will get right to work on our briefs, and we look forward to a full and fair hearing.”

It’s unclear when arguments will be held in the case, but they could come as early as March, with a decision likely coming in June.

The court did not attach any comments to its announcement on Friday that it would hear the case.

Updated at 4:45 p.m.

Tags Colin Powell Hillary Clinton
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