Federal and state judges, it turns out, are not the cynical political puppets that Donald Trump took them for when he started on his fanatical, fact-free quest to overturn the presidential election by using the courts.
Supreme Court justices and judges across the country have done exactly as they are sworn to do: Issue rulings based on the facts and the law, without regard to the people involved. They have shown that the American system of democracy can survive an assault even by the president of United States.
Twice this week alone, the Supreme Court dealt major blows to efforts by Trump’s allies to overturn the vote in states won by President-elect Joe Biden. On Tuesday, in a single sentence, the court — which includes three justices appointed by Trump — rejected the plaintiffs’ call to stop Pennsylvania from finalizing its vote total that showed Biden the winner by more than 80,000 votes.
And on Friday night, the court refused to let Texas challenge the results in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump, 17 attorneys general and 126 House Republicans had joined the suit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections,” the court said.
‘No basis in fact or in law’
That must have been quite a shock to Trump, who all but said that the three justices he nominated would side with him if cases challenging the election went to the court. It’s one reason he was desperate to rush his last nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, onto the court before Nov. 3.
Describing voting by mail as a “scam that the Democrats are pulling,” Trump told reporters in September, “I think this will end up in the Supreme Court, and I think it’s very important that we have nine Justices.”
But Trump’s fantasies about judges as his pawns have run into a harsh reality. Since the election, over four dozen lawsuits filed by Trump and his minions since the election have been dropped or rejected in courts from Pennsylvania to Nevada. Some of the most scorching dismissals have come from federal judges nominated by Republicans, including Trump himself.
Last month, a federal appeals panel in Philadelphia threw out one of numerous attempts to halt the certification of Pennsylvania’s vote. “Voters, not lawyers, choose the president,” wrote federal appeals judge Stephanos Bibas. He also made clear that lawsuits are not like presidential tweets or speeches: “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”
On Twitter, one of Trump’s lawyers quickly blamed the loss on “the activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania.” Wrong. Bibas was nominated in 2017 by Trump; the two others on the panel are Republican nominees, as well.
In Georgia last month, another federal judge who owes his nomination to Trump dismissed a complaint filed by a Trump ally to block state officials from certifying the vote in Georgia, where Biden won by 12,000 votes. “To halt the certification at literally the 11th hour would breed confusion and potentially disenfranchisement that I find has no basis in fact or in law,” U.S. District Judge Steven Grimberg asserted at the hearing.
State courts have been no more hospitable to the barrage of baseless accusations Trump and his allies have thrown at them. Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected three separate lawsuits filed by Trump or his allies that sought essentially to have Biden’s narrow victory in the state thrown out. In one case, Judge Brian Hagedorn, a conservative Republican who joined with three liberals to reject the claims, called the “sought-after remedy” a “real stunner.”
Last and only avenue to stop Trump
“We are invited to invalidate the entire presidential election in Wisconsin by declaring it ‘null’— yes, the whole thing” he wrote. The petition by Trump allies “falls far short of the kind of compelling evidence and legal support” a court would need to “disenfranchise every Wisconsin voter.” Hagedorn added, “At stake, in some measure, is faith in our system of free and fair elections, …central to the enduring strength of our constitutional republic.”
Hagedorn certainly got that right. The president’s relentless attacks on the election have damaged many people’s belief in the workings of democracy. But the actions by judges — whether nominated by Republicans or Democrats, whether in state or federal court — should reaffirm their faith.
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The courts have become the last and seemingly only avenue of accountability for this president. They have the final say on whether a president or Congress is acting within the constraints imposed by the Constitution.
During this dangerous period, judges have risen to the occasion, doing their job as neutral arbiters of evidence and law. If they continue to stick to their oaths of office, they will save democracy and show how strong our constitutional form of government really is.
Saundra Torry is a former editorial writer for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter: @storry1
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump, election lawsuits, and judges: the chaotic aftermath in the courts