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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit House Republicans brought against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) over a proxy-voting rule change that would allow, for the first time in American history, lawmakers to vote on legislation without actually showing up.
According to Politico, Judge Rudolph Contreras of the Washington, D.C., federal district court did not weigh the merits of the case but instead dismissed it after determining he could not legally review it due to the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause.
“The Court can conceive of few other actions, besides actually debating, speaking, or voting, that could more accurately be described as ‘legislative’ than the regulation of how votes may be cast,” wrote Contreras, reports the news agency.
In a statement, Pelosi called the lawsuit’s dismissal “welcome news,” and said she hoped it would be “the end of this sad Republican effort to obstruct the House from meeting the needs of the American people during the coronavirus crisis.”
“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. The nation is in the middle of a pandemic and the House of Representatives must continue to work,” said the speaker.
Under the terms of the rule change, which three Democrats voted against, Pelosi can establish a 45-day proxy voting period where members of congress can authorize another member of congress to vote on their behalf. Each member of congress must receive specific instructions on how to vote but can vote for up to ten lawmakers. The rule change also allowed the speaker to extend, or shorten, the voting period based on public health circumstances.
A spokesperson for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who was named in the suit, told The New York Times that the congressman plans to submit an appeal.
Nearly two dozen Republican members of Congress signed onto the lawsuit as plaintiffs back in May, and accused Pelosi of ending the “231-year constitutional tradition of in-person assembly, deliberation, and voting.”
It is simply impossible to read the constitution and overlook its repeated and emphatic requirement that Members of Congress actually assemble in their respective chambers when they vote, whether on matters as weighty as declaring war or as ordinary as naming a bridge….That requirement is no less mandatory in the midst of a pandemic, see INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919, 959 (1983), as the House’s forebears amply demonstrated when facing a far more deadly pandemic a little more than a century ago.
The lawsuit also cited numerous examples of lawmakers meeting in person despite extenuating circumstances, such as in the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793, and in 1861 during the outbreak of the Civil War.
While dozens of Democratic lawmakers have submitted letters to the House clerk so that they can vote by proxy, only one Republican lawmaker, Congressman Francis Rooney (R-FL) has done so. He has been a public supporter of the rule change.