WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump had another brutal weekend in court, with the US Supreme Court and other judges across the country rejecting his latest efforts to overturn his loss to President-elect Joe Biden.
Trump and his allies have lost 59 times in court since Nov. 3, according to a running tally on Twitter from Marc Elias, the lawyer leading Democrats’ fight against the GOP’s post-election challenges. The Supreme Court’s one-paragraph rejection of Trump and Texas' bid to invalidate more than 20 million votes on Friday night was just one of a string of fresh losses that the president has faced over the past 72 hours alone.
The odds that the justices would step in on the eve of Monday’s Electoral College vote to throw the presidential race into turmoil were slim to none. The justices stopped Texas’s unprecedented attempt to sue Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin, and Michigan — all states that Biden won — at the door. But judges ruled over the weekend in other, narrower legal fights that the president filed in recent weeks, and rejected those, too.
Trump’s back-to-back losses highlighted the breadth of Trump and Republican’s failure to convince judges of every political background and at every level of the US judicial system to undo Biden’s victory. The fact that the Electoral College is meeting on Monday to make the results official makes it even less likely that judges will do anything dramatic going forward.
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“This Court has allowed plaintiff the chance to make his case and he has lost on the merits,” US District Judge Brett Ludwig wrote in an opinion on Saturday, dismissing a Trump campaign lawsuit that accused Wisconsin election officials of violating state law and asking the court to effectively void Biden’s 20,000-vote lead and let the Republican-controlled state legislature decide what to do.
Ludwig, who joined a small but notable group of Trump’s own judicial nominees who have ruled against the president’s election challenges, made clear that what Trump wanted the court to do was extreme, using the word “extraordinary” in italics three times. He concluded with a statement that read like a rebuttal to the baseless claims of Trump, his lawyers, and his supporters that the courts, along with voting systems across the country, were rigged against them.
“In his reply brief, plaintiff ‘asks that the Rule of Law be followed,’” wrote Ludwig. “It has been.”
"Plaintiff 'asks that the Rule of Law be followed.' It has been."
Ludwig’s order came one day after a state court judge rejected Trump’s appeal of recounts that failed to change Biden’s win in the most racially diverse counties in the state, Milwaukee and Dane counties.
The campaign’s lawyers immediately appealed and the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard arguments on Saturday. On Monday, the state justices issued a 4-3 decision denying the campaign's challenge, finding Trump and his lawyers had waited far too long to bring challenges to how the state ran absentee voting this year.
"Election claims of this type must be brought expeditiously. The Campaign waited until after the election to raise selective challenges that could have been raised long before the election," Justice Brian Hagedorn wrote for the majority. "The Campaign is not entitled to relief, and therefore does not succeed in its effort to strike votes and alter the certified winner of the 2020 presidential election."
In Georgia, meanwhile, the state Supreme Court on Saturday refused to take up Trump’s statewide election contest. The state justices wrote that they didn’t have jurisdiction to hear the case because the campaign had skipped ahead and filed a petition before there was any lower court decision to appeal. The campaign argued there was “significant systemic misconduct, fraud, and other irregularities” in how Georgia ran the election, but the justices found Trump failed to show that it was “one of those extremely rare cases” that they could take up right away.
Trump and Republicans have lost dozens of lawsuits filed since Election Day, sometimes losing a single case multiple times when they’ve tried to appeal. That number could continue to grow; Trump immediately took Ludwig’s decision in Wisconsin to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
The GOP election challenges have come in roughly two waves after Nov. 3. The first wave largely focused on objections to specific clusters of ballots or election practices at the city and county level. In Pennsylvania, Trump’s campaign and Republicans challenged sets of absentee ballots — ranging from several dozen to several thousand votes — where the voter didn’t include pieces of information on the outside envelope, such as their address or the date. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled those ballots could be counted.
There were cases claiming Republican poll watchers were denied access to watch ballots processed at counting sites in Philadelphia and Detroit; that late-arriving absentee ballots were improperly mingled with valid ballots in Chatham County, Georgia; and that election officials in Maricopa County, Arizona, violated state law by using computer software to verify signatures and may have miscounted ballots filled out using Sharpies. Judges rejected those cases, citing a lack of evidence, or the challengers dropped them before a judge ruled.
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There was also Trump’s first big attempt at nullifying Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, in the form of a federal lawsuit led by Rudy Giuliani. It was chaotic litigation, marked by multiple changes to Trump’s legal team and multiple attempts at changing what they were arguing and asking the courts to do. At a Nov. 17 court hearing, Giuliani revealed a lack of understanding of basic legal principles and was forced to admit that it was not a voter fraud case — their claims were based on objections to some counties allowing voters to fix or “cure” absentee ballots with defects while others did not and issues with poll watcher access.
“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” Judge Stephanos Bibas — one of Trump’s own nominees — wrote in a 3–0 federal appeals court decision upholding a district court judge’s refusal to allow Trump’s campaign to relitigate the case after it was dismissed.
That initial round of litigation yielded Trump’s only win to date — an order from a judge in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania tossing out a narrow subset of absentee ballots that arrived during a three-day window after Election Day where the voter failed to provide proof of identification by Nov. 9. The secretary of state’s office hasn’t confirmed how many ballots were affected, but the state had agreed to separate them out while the case was pending, meaning they didn’t contribute to Biden’s 80,000-vote lead in the state.
As the weeks went on and states began formally certifying results, the legal challenges morphed to increasingly mirror Trump and his allies’ lies about widespread voter fraud and wild theories of a nationwide conspiracy to rig the election for Biden.
Sidney Powell, a Texas-based lawyer who had earned Trump’s praise for her TV attacks on the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference and her legal defense work on behalf of Trump’s now-pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn, vowed to “release the Kraken.” She filed lawsuits in federal court against election officials in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, and Wisconsin, alleging widespread fraud and asking judges to invalidate the results statewide.
Judges in all four cases rejected Powell’s claims. They issued opinions that eviscerated the legal underpinnings of her lawsuits and made clear they were unpersuaded by any of the evidence she’d put forward. The judge in Michigan described Powell’s proof of fraud as “speculation and conjecture.” The judge in Arizona wrote that the allegations were “sorely wanting of relevant or reliable evidence.” All of the judges found that Powell’s cases failed on multiple levels, including that her plaintiffs didn’t have standing to sue and that the cases were moot because the states had already certified results.
"Federal judges do not appoint the president in this country."
The judges dinged Powell for procedural missteps and issued full-throated condemnations of the effort to have courts decide a presidential election and overrule voters.
“Federal judges do not appoint the president in this country. One wonders why the plaintiffs came to federal court and asked a federal judge to do so,” US District Chief Judge Pamela Pepper wrote in a Dec. 9 opinion dismissing Powell’s case in Wisconsin. “After a week of sometimes odd and often harried litigation, the court is no closer to answering the ‘why.’”
US District Judge Linda Parker in Michigan wrote in a Dec. 7 opinion that Powell’s lawsuit in that court “seems to be less about achieving the relief Plaintiffs seek—as much of that relief is beyond the power of this Court—and more about the impact of their allegations on People’s faith in the democratic process and their trust in our government.”
“Plaintiffs ask this Court to ignore the orderly statutory scheme established to challenge elections and to ignore the will of millions of voters. This, the Court cannot, and will not, do,” Parker wrote.
Powell is appealing all of her losses, and has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear the Georgia case.
More attempts at undermining Biden’s win or clawing back state certifications have fallen flat over the past two weeks. The US Supreme Court on Dec. 8 refused to immediately take up a challenge in Pennsylvania brought by Rep. Mike Kelly and other Republicans after they lost in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court; that case, initially filed in late November, contested a state law expanding mail-in voting that passed more than a year ago. Kelly filed another petition asking the Supreme Court to consider the case on the merits on Friday.
Republican state lawmakers and voters in Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in state court on Dec. 4 featuring a laundry list of claims of election irregularities and state law violations and then dropped it a week later after the court denied their request for an emergency order.
The Arizona Supreme Court on Dec. 8 rejected an election contest brought by Arizona Republican Party Chair Kelli Ward challenging ballots cast in Maricopa County. An analysis of a random sample of ballots showed an error rate that didn’t “come close” to meeting the threshold for a recount, the court concluded, and there was no evidence of signature forgery or other “misconduct.” Ward filed a petition on Friday asking the US Supreme Court to take the case.
Another new case was filed in the US Supreme Court on Dec. 8 by L. Lin Wood Jr., a conservative lawyer who repeatedly lost a case he filed in federal court in Georgia challenging the election results there. In a 3–0 decision, a federal appeals court panel that featured two of the court’s more conservative judges, including Judge Barbara Lagoa, another one of Trump’s nominees, agreed with the district court judge that Wood lacked standing to bring the case. Wood has petitioned the US Supreme Court to hear his case as well.
In Michigan, the Trump campaign recently attempted to revive a case it had lost challenging how officials in Wayne County, which includes Detroit, had managed the election and claiming poll watchers were denied access to observe ballots being processed. A judge had rejected the case on Nov. 5, and the campaign opened a case in the Michigan Court of Appeals the next day but didn’t complete the appeal until Nov. 30 — nearly two weeks after the state certified the election results.
The appeals court rejected the case as moot on Dec. 4 and wrote that the campaign “failed to follow the clear law in Michigan” that the way to allege fraud after results were certified was to seek a recount. The Michigan Supreme Court on Friday issued an order denying the Trump campaign’s effort to press the case there.