House Republicans plan to file a lawsuit Tuesday against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) in an effort to block the chamber’s new proxy voting system amid the coronavirus pandemic, citing the new rules are unconstitutional.
The lawsuit was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is expected to spearhead the suit against Pelosi in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., along with the support of 20 GOP lawmakers.
The 20 GOP lawmakers included in the legal action are House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-WY), Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), as well as four constituents from different states have also signed onto the lawsuit against Pelosi, as well as the House Clerk and the Sergeant at Arms who are also named in the suit. Republicans’ legal team will be led by Chuck Cooper, chairman of Cooper & Kirk, PLLC, and Elliot S. Berke, managing partner of Berke Farah LLP.
The GOP lawsuit alleges that the new rules are unconstitutional because the Constitution requires a quorum, or a majority, of lawmakers to be physically present to conduct business. They also argued that despite challenges to gather they believe that the Constitution’s drafters expected lawmakers to physically be present to conduct business and designating others to cast votes on their behalf raises “significant constitutional questions if any law were to actually become effective as a result of these votes.”
“Our read is that this is unconstitutional and we think that ideally that Article I could have solved this on our own, but the majority passed a rule that we believe is unconstitutional and so the remedy there is for us to go to the courts and ask for them to confirm our reading of the Constitution, and that will take a little bit of time,” according to an aide of one of the lawmakers named on the suit.
Under the new rules that passed the House two weeks ago, lawmakers who cannot or do want to travel to the Capitol to participate in floor votes amid of concerns about traveling will now be able to cast votes in the House through a proxy. Absent lawmakers can authorize colleagues on their behalf with specific instructions for how they would vote on a measure, and the proxy must vote in accordance with their instructions and can cast proxy votes on behalf of no more than 10 members at the same time.
The vote to adopt the resolution was voted along party lines, 217-189. No Republicans voted in support of rules changes and the Democratic-controlled House is expected to deploy the new proceedings for the first time on Wednesday.
The new rules allow the House speaker to initiate remote operations for 45 days if nonpartisan officials have declared a public health emergency. Pelosi activated the remote proceedings last Wednesday.
“Last week, the House voted to institute measures ensuring that Congress can continue to meet the needs of families and workers during the unprecedented challenge of the coronavirus, including with remote voting by proxy,” Pelosi said in a statement last week. “Remote voting by proxy is fully consistent with the Constitution and more than a century of legal precedent, including Supreme Court cases, that make clear that the House can determine its own rules.”
Democrats defended the proxy voting earlier with House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) calling it a common-sense method to help keep the House functioning while dismissing the GOP claims as a “political posture without merit.”
“We believe proxy voting is not only consistent with the Constitution but consistent with the responsibility a member has to express the views of their constituents, whether or not they can get to Washington, D.C.,” Hoyer said on a press call. “They call it unanimous consent, but what that means is two people are voting for the hundred. I see it as a political posture without merit.”
Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) said that the Constitution gives the House the ability to write its own rules.
“I think the courts will defer to the House to set our own rules,” Peters said. “The issue is whether we’re present or not—in this day and age it’s totally reasonable to deem that people can be virtually present.”
Pelosi called the impending filing a “sad stunt” by Republicans intended to “delay and obstruct.”
“House Republicans’ sad stunt shows that their only focus is to delay and obstruct urgently needed action to meet the needs of American workers and families during the coronavirus crisis,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday evening. “As our nation approaches the heartbreaking milestone of 100,000 lives lost to COVID-19, House Republicans must stop their dangerous obstruction and join Democrats to save lives, defeat the virus and grow the economy.”
So far 58 Democrat lawmakers have submitted letters to the House clerk designating others lawmakers as their proxies.