U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Challenges to the Constitutionality of “Faithless Elector Laws”

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The Supreme Court rejected the challenges to the constitutionality of the “faithless elector laws”. The ruling comes before the 2020 presidential elections. The judgement allows the status quo to prevail in the current system.

Background

The faithless elector law penalizes presidential electors. Those who fail to vote for the candidate they pledged to support. Hence, the first challenge arose from Washington State. This was by three voters Bret Chiafalo, Levi Guerra and Esther John. The State chose these three as their electors for the state Democratic Party. This was in the 2016 presidential elections. They pledged to support the candidate who had won the popular vote. The vote was to go to Hillary Clinton but the three electors put in their vote for someone else. The deviance of vote was in protest against Donald Trump’s electoral majority. This deviance in their vote leads to nothing but a fine of 1000$. The Washington Supreme Court held that the fines were valid. The electors could not vote in deviance of their pledge.

The second challenge came from Colorado. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in Colorado, and the elector for the State was Micheal Baca. He deviated and voted for Republican John Kasich instead. Removed from his position for this vote, was Mr Baca. The U.S. Court of Appeal agreed with them. It held that Colorado’s faithless elector law violates the Constitution.

The American Voting System

The presidential elections happen in a series of stages. When the American people cast their vote for the presidential candidates, they do not vote for members of the Electoral College. The Electoral College comprises the candidates of each State on popular returns. Furthermore, the Electoral candidates cast their votes for the president. The citizen preference in each State backs the voting. Most states in the United States compel their electors to pledge their support. This is to the presidential candidate that their citizens have voted for. States can remove the elector based on the allegation of violation of that pledge. Some states also impose a monetary fine on this deviance.

Arguments

The electors who deviated argued the following. That the Constitution gives them absolute freedom to vote for their own choice, they need not be bound by the pledge laws or the will of the voters in their State. The court disagreed with this argument. It also held that the State might penalize the electors who do not vote under their pledge. The entire argument pivoted around Article II. The sentences of ‘ power to appoint an elector’ and “to condition his appointment”. The electors under Article II of the Constitution and the Twelfth Amendment do not hold any powers of discretion while casting a vote. This is contrary to the elector’s arguments.

Court’s Opinion

Justice Kagan expressed the following: That the people are not voting for the president but the Electoral College. Many states have required the electors to pledge their support to the party’s winning nominee. The U.S. Constitution does not have expressed instructions on the voting by the members of the college. There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the State from taking away the voting discretion from the presidential electors. Another aspect is that this deviance from the pledge or the state voters’ popular choice rarely has occurred in the United States. The Electoral College is set up to reflect the will of the people.

Justice Thomas filed his separate opinion. He did not agree with the majority reasoning. Nevertheless, he agreed that the Faithless Elector Law is constitutional. The reasoning is the following. The Constitution does not explain the state powers to render an elector faithless for dishonouring the pledge. He stated that anything the Constitution does not give to the federal government or take away from the states would belong to the states.

Court’s Decision

The court expressed that wording in the Constitution does not include discretion of an elector while casting his vote. It held that the State could enforce an elector’s pledge to support the party nominee and the State’s voter choice for president.


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