Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he’s suing Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin directly in the U.S. Supreme Court, accusing the battleground states of exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to enact last-minute changes illegally to mail-in voting rules.
Paxton, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, claims the states “flooded their people with unlawful ballot applications and ballots” and ignored rules for counting mail-in ballots, according to a news release announcing the litigation. The allegations echo those made by Trump and his allies in dozens of lawsuits filed in the same swing states following President-elect Joe Biden’s election victory.
“These flaws cumulatively preclude knowing who legitimately won the 2020 election and threaten to cloud all future elections,” Texas said in a motion seeking high court approval to file the suit.
The suit comes on the “safe harbor” deadline for states to certify their slates of electors but before the electoral college meets Dec. 14. Paxton, who is seeking an order that would block electors from the four states from participating, requested an expedited briefing schedule requiring the defendant states to file briefs on Wednesday and oral arguments to be heard on Friday. If the court fails to act before the electors vote, “a grave cloud will hang over not only the presidency but also the republic,” he said.
“The motion filed by the Texas attorney general is a publicity stunt, not a serious legal pleading,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “The erosion of confidence in our democratic system isn’t attributable to the good people of Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia or Pennsylvania but rather to partisan officials, like Mr. Paxton, who place loyalty to a person over loyalty to their country.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul called the suit “embarrassing,” while Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the claims “uniquely unserious.”
Paxton “is constitutionally, legally and factually wrong about Georgia,” Katie Byrd, spokeswoman for the state’s attorney general, Chris Carr, said in a statement.
According to Paxton, the U.S. Constitution only grants state legislatures the authority to make changes to election laws, and election officials, like secretaries of states, violated the law in doing so. The Texas suit also claims those states violated the equal protection clause by allowing Democratic-leaning counties to restrict Republican poll-watchers or accept ballots with minor errors.
Courts nationwide have rejected these arguments again and again, holding that state officials had a right to change rules for mail-in ballots to prevent spread of the virus in crowded polling places and protect the right to vote. Democratic state officials involved in other lawsuits with the president’s campaign have accused Trump of trying to undermine faith in U.S. elections to hobble the president-elect as he takes office.
Paxton’s lawsuit has “no chance of success,” said Wendy Weiser, who heads a democracy program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice and isn’t involved in the case. The case “is more abuse of the court system to propagate disinformation and advance a political agenda.”
Notably, Texas isn’t suing many other states that made similar changes — instead targeting a handful of hotly contested states that Trump carried in 2016 but Biden won in this election.
A record number of voters used mail-in ballots for the election, which Biden won by about 7 million votes. Trump and his allies have used a hodgepodge of theories to explain the president’s loss, from claims of rampant irregularities to full blown conspiracy theories about voting machines being hacked by Iran and China. None of the claims have gained traction in court.
Paxton is facing state securities fraud charges relating to his actions before taking office. The Associated Press also reported last month that he was under FBI investigation for allegedly intervening in legal matters on behalf of a major campaign contributor. Paxton has denied wrongdoing.
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–With assistance from Bloomberg’s Greg Stohr and Margaret Newkirk.