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GOP Lawmakers Sue Nancy Pelosi, Claim New House Proxy Voting Rules Are Unconstitutional

A coalition of 20 House Republicans on Tuesday filed a lawsuit challenging Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) new proxy voting system, alleging that the procedure violates congressional rules and the U.S. Constitution.

The House proxy voting procedures were introduced and passed earlier this month to comply with health professionals’ social distancing recommendations. Under the measure, lawmakers unable to travel to Washington, D.C. amid the global pandemic, were allowed to designate another member of the chamber as their proxy, empowering that representative to cast votes on their behalf.

“In order for a Member to designate another Member as a proxy for purposes of section 1, the Member shall submit to the Clerk a signed letter (which may be in electronic form) specifying by name the Member who is designated for such purposes,” Section 2(a)(1) of H. Res. 965 prescribed.

Members acting as a proxy were also required to obtain “exact instructions” with respect to how their vote should be cast.

The resolution passed the chamber on a strictly party-line vote, with no members of the Republican party voting in favor, leading to Tuesday’s lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), House Republicans claim that the remote-voting system is antithetical to the Founders vision of how lawmakers would interact when enacting legislation.

The GOP coalition is being represented in the matter by attorney Charles J. Cooper. Cooper previously represented former U.S. Deputy National Security Advisor Charles Kupperman in legal challenges to House subpoenas which sought to compel Kupperman to testify in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump. Cooper also represented former Attorney General Jeff Sessions during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

Listing a series of constitutional provisions that explicitly require Congress to “assemble” or be “present,” the GOP lawmakers said that any proxy voting procedures violated the text of the U.S. Constitution.

“All of these provisions clearly contemplate the actual gathering together of representatives as a deliberative body. Thus, as the Supreme Court has held, to constitute a ‘Quorum’ necessary to ‘do Business,’ the Constitution requires ‘the presence of a majority, and when that majority are present the power of the house arises,’” the lawmakers wrote, referring to the High Court’s 1892 decision in U.S. v. Ballin.

House Republicans also listed a series of horrific events such as the Civil War, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, and 9/11 terrorist attacks, noting that the House never needed to vote remotely during those times.

“In sum, over the course of 231 years, Congress has assembled at the seat of government while war raged in the surrounding environs and deadly contagion spread throughout the country,” the lawmakers wrote. “Yet neither House of Congress has ever authorized voting from the floor by mail, telegraph, or proxy, nor even considered, it appears, such a procedure. The unbroken American tradition of in-person assembly and voting in Congress confirms the unambiguous text of the Constitution: proxy voting by Members of the House of Representatives is unconstitutional.”

The lawsuit asked the federal court to issue an injunction preventing the new rules from taking effect.

Read the full complaint below.

GOP Pelosi Complaint by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Chip Somodevilla_Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.