A federal judge on Thursday tossed Republicans’ challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s vote-by-proxy system during coronavirus, ruling that Congress is free to make its own rules without judges’ interference.
Judge Rudolph Contreras, an Obama appointee, said the Constitution’s Speech and Debate clause gives Capitol Hill wide latitude to decide how to operate, and “activities integral to the legislative process may not be examined” by the courts.
“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,” Judge Contreras ruled.
Under the new voting system lawmakers can designate another member of the House to cast their votes for them on the chamber floor.
Democrats said it would allow people with serious concerns about contracting COVID-19 to still take part in business.
Republicans, though, said it amounted to lawmakers giving up their votes, and said it violated the Constitution’s rules.
Judge Contreras said he didn’t reach any of those thorny questions, instead deciding that he can’t even consider them because the entire matter is left to the legislature.
Dozens of Democrats have used the new tool.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP’s floor leader who led the lawsuit, wondered whether lawmakers should be paid if someone else is casting their votes, and he questioned some of the absences.
Mrs. Pelosi, in a statement Thursday, called the lawsuit an “effort to obstruct the House.”
“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,” she said.
The Senate has not adopted any similar rule.
More than a half-dozen members of the House have publicly announced they tested positive for coronavirus.
As of Thursday, 35 House members had active designated voters, according to govtrack.us. A dozen of those were first designated all the way back in May.
Rep. Don Beyer, Virginia Democrat, is currently able to vote for five different lawmakers — himself and four colleagues.
Nine members of the House have tested positive for coronavirus, according to govtrack.us. Only one senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, is known to have tested positive.
Dozens more lawmakers have quarantined themselves over the course of the pandemic after coming in close contact with an infected person.