Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects Trump's election lawsuit

Patrick Marley, Patrick Marley and Molly Beck, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

MADISON, Wisconsin – The Wisconsin Supreme Court threw out President Donald Trump's election lawsuit Thursday, two days after he asked the justices to revoke the certification of a contest he lost by nearly 21,000 votes.

In the 4-3 decision, the justices said they would not accept the case he filed directly with them. The president can try to pursue the matter in a lower court, but Thursday's ruling is a setback that shows he is near the end of the road with his legal challenges in Wisconsin.

Conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn joined the court's three liberals to reject the case, saying any challenge should start in circuit court.

"We do well as a judicial body to abide by time-tested judicial norms, even — and maybe especially — in high-profile cases," he wrote. "Following the law governing challenges to election results is no threat to the rule of law."

The court ruled hours after Trump filed a separate lawsuit in federal court seeking to have the Republican-controlled Legislature, instead of voters, decide how to cast Wisconsin's electoral votes. That case remains pending, as does another one filed in federal court by Trump allies.

Recognizing the tight time frame, the justices acted quickly. Tuesday is the "safe harbor" date recognized in federal law by which any challenges to election results are to be resolved. If challenges are not resolved by then, there is a higher risk the state's electoral votes won't be counted.

The Electoral College is to meet Dec. 14 and Congress will count its votes on Jan. 6. According to states' returns, Biden has 306 electoral votes and Trump has 232. Biden's sizable victory means he would become president even if Wisconsin's electoral votes were shifted from him to Trump.

Trump has not made headway with legal challenges in other states either. He has been furiously fundraising to fund his election challenges in Wisconsin and elsewhere, raising more than $170 million since Election Day, according to the New York Times. But much of that money will go to pay off campaign debt or sustain his future political ambitions rather than his legal fight.

Thursday's ruling came a day after Trump released a 46-minute video packed with falsehoods about how the Nov. 3 election was conducted. Nonpartisan observers have said there were no major flaws with the election and Trump's attorney general, William Barr, this week said there is no evidence of widespread fraud.

In his Wisconsin lawsuit, Trump was not alleging fraud.

Instead, he argued long-standing election practices were illegal and asked to throw out hundreds of thousands of votes in Dane and Milwaukee counties, the two most Democratic parts of the state. He did not ask to toss votes in Republican parts of Wisconsin, even though ballots there were cast the same way.

Biden won the state by a margin of 0.6 percentage points, according to initial results. Trump paid $3 million to recount the ballots in Milwaukee and Dane counties, which turned up dozens more votes for Biden.

The recount concluded Sunday. On Monday, the Democratic head of the state Elections Commission determined the results of the state's 72 counties were accurate and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers certified Biden as the winner.

Trump sued on Tuesday, asking the high court to revoke the certification, revive the recount and disqualify more than 220,000 ballots in Dane and Milwaukee counties.

Among the votes he wanted to throw out were all those cast early in-person in those two counties — including one by Jim Troupis, his lead attorney in Wisconsin.

He also sought to toss ballots cast by those who said they were indefinitely confined because of age or disability. Those voters don't have to show ID to get absentee ballots and Trump argued some claiming that status didn't meet the criteria.

His lawsuit took aim at the heart of an election system created by Republicans over eight years when they controlled all of state government. Republicans created the commission that oversees state elections, established the state's voting procedures and have long encouraged their supporters to vote in-person early without questioning the legitimacy of the practice.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects President Trump's election lawsuit