Supreme Court rejects GOP challenge to proxy voting in House

Kent Nishimura
·3 min read

Washington — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a challenge mounted by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy against the lower chamber's pandemic-era rules for voting by proxy, allowing the practice to continue.

McCarthy and Congressman Chip Roy, a Republican from Texas, asked the high court in September to take up their battle against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other officials over a House-passed resolution that allows members to delegate another lawmaker to vote on their behalf during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Approved by the House in May 2020, the resolution authorized remote voting and allows the designated proxy to cast votes for up to 10 absent lawmakers. While proxy voting was initially authorized for 45 days, Pelosi has extended the practice numerous times due to the ongoing pandemic.

Remote voting has been used by Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike, who invoke the ongoing public health emergency as their reason for missing votes on the House floor. While intended to allow lawmakers who can't safely travel to Washington to cast their votes, proxy voting has been used by members of both parties for reasons unrelated to the pandemic.

Pelosi cheered the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case in a statement, calling it a "victory for the Congress, the rule of law and public health."

"Both the Constitution and more than a century of legal precedent make clear that the House is empowered to determine its own rules – and remote voting by proxy falls squarely within this purview," she said. "With this failed lawsuit, Republicans have worked to recklessly endanger the health of colleagues, staffers and institutional workers. In doing so, they have fought harder to try to score political points than they have fought to help struggling families during the pandemic."

McCarthy and Republican House members challenging the proxy voting resolution alleged the scheme is unconstitutional. But lawyers for Pelosi and other House officials asked the federal district court to toss out the suit, arguing the resolution was insulated from judicial review.

The district court sided with Pelosi, finding it was foreclosed from considering the constitutionality of the proxy voting resolution. The U.S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's decision.

McCarthy then asked the Supreme Court to weigh in, arguing "the proxy voting scheme changes the very nature of the House from a face-to-face, deliberative body to an absent one" and "taints every bill."

"The Framers designed Congress to be a deliberative body that convenes and assembles in person at the seat of government to speak and debate as part of carrying out the people's business. Face-to-face deliberation is part of the House's very DNA," lawyers for the Republican lawmakers told the justices. "The never-before-seen proxy voting scheme is at odds with that, at odds with the Constitution's plain text, and at odds with 231 years of unbroken tradition."

But in encouraging the Supreme Court to reject the case, House lawyers argued implementation of proxy voting is "integral to the House's legislative process and falls squarely within its constitutional rulemaking authority." The House, they said, has "wide discretion" in setting its rules under the Constitution.

"In light of the pandemic and advances in modern technology, the House has reasonably authorized members to vote remotely by providing binding, precise instructions to a member on the floor. That choice accords with the Constitution," they said.

The Supreme Court's rejection of McCarthy's appeal means the D.C. Circuit's ruling remains in place.

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