The very foundations of United States democracy have been shaken this weekend as President Donald Trump marshalled his Republican supporters – and the far right – to confront the US Supreme Court.
Twice last week the court threw out challenges by Republicans who alleged widespread voter fraud.
On Friday the court considered the second challenge, by the Attorney-General of Texas, challenging electoral results. He accused Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin of violating their own state laws, and thereby the US Constitution, by adjusting absentee voting procedures to accommodate the surge in mail-in ballots from voters following public-health guidance during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a brief order, the court said Texas lacked legal standing to bring the case.
“Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections.”
Trump tried to intervene and in a Friday tweet called on the Supreme Court of the United States
” … to follow the Constitution and do what everybody knows has to be done.”
The court’s order, however, underscores that the motion, along with many others filed over the past two days, was moot.
Trump made no secret of his disappointment, given that he had appointed conservative judges to the court and expected them to decide in his favour. He wrote in a tweet late on Friday:
“The Supreme Court really let us down. No Wisdom, No Courage!’’
Not unnaturally, Democrat challenger Joe Biden’s office applauded the decision.
“The Supreme Court has decisively and speedily rejected the latest of Donald Trump and his allies’ attacks on the democratic process,” said spokesman Michael Gwin.
Legal scholars and practicing Supreme Court lawyers believe the Texas challenge was unprecedented and derided its demand for a judicial override of a presidential election. However, it drew support from many Republicans.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and more than 125 GOP colleagues signed a brief in support of Texas, as did at least 17 Republican-led states and a variety of conservative groups, including one purporting to represent proposed breakaway states of “New California” and “New Nevada.”
Texas Attorney-General Ken Paxton said it was unfortunate the Supreme Court decided not to take this case and determine the constitutionality of these four states’ failure to follow federal and state election law. But there is a widespread belief he took this long shot because he is facing serious legal challenges of his own – which he denies – and was currying favour with Trump to secure a presidential pardon.
While the court was convening, hundreds of pro-Trump supporters paraded outside, shouting slogans and waving banners.
On Saturday thousands of them paraded through Washington DC. Ominously, they were supported by a strong platoon of the Proud Boys with bullet-proof vests, an armed militia ordered by Trump some months ago to “stand back and stand by”.
Inevitably, the Trump supporters tangled with opposing demonstrators resulting in fighting, stabbing and several arrests.
Trump continues to reject the results of the elections, declaring them illegal and driven by fraudulent voting and insecure arrangements. Yet all the states he challenged – Republican and Democrat – have confirmed the results and found no evidence to support his claims.
In effect, he has challenged his own party and the integrity of states’ systems. Through his ability to turn out supporters across the US, more ominously, he has confirmed his grip on the Republican party to the consternation of party moderates who hoped his retreat from the White House will allow a return to normalcy.
He will return to his home at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida along with daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner (who have bought a $US30 million two-acre plot nearby) to build a campaign for the 2024 elections. By then he will have been out of office for four years and will be 78 years old. If Biden stays for only one term, Trump would face a younger challenger with all the support of the US system behind her – or him.