- The Washington Times - Monday, June 1, 2020

A federal judge signaled Monday he’s in no hurry to rule on whether the House’s new rules allowing lawmakers to skip votes but pick a designated voter to speak for them are legal.

Judge Rudolph Contreras said he’ll hold a hearing July 24, with briefs to be filed in the weeks between now and then.

That’s more than a month later than the June 19 hearing requested by House Republicans, who sued last week to stop Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s new voting scheme. It also puts the hearing beyond the 45-day window Mrs. Pelosi has authorized designated voting, so unless she renews the idea, it could be a dead issue by that time.

“Allowing the initial 45-day period to expire without a decision from this court would raise difficult questions of mootness and potentially deprive plaintiffs of relief from their ongoing injuries, with enormous implications for our constitutional structure,” the House Republicans had warned the judge in their motion for a speedy hearing.

He was not swayed.

Democrats say the designated-voter idea is needed because the coronavirus makes it unsafe for some members to return to Washington. Rather than shut down business or act without those members, Mrs. Pelosi came up with a plan to let them assign their vote by proxy to another lawmaker who will be present.

“The voting procedures in House Resolution 965 for members who cannot be physically present but who have directed others to cast votes for them in specific and binding terms advance vital public health and safety imperatives and serve national needs,” the Democrats said in their brief to the court.

As of Monday, 84 letters assigning proxies had been submitted to the House clerk, and 74 of them are still listed as active.

The House conducted business under the proxy-voting system last week, passing a massive coronavirus bill that Republicans have declared dead in the Senate.

GOP lawmakers had urged Judge Contreras to move speedily, saying that any action the House takes at this point under proxy-voting is suspect, and could be called into question later, creating a legal mess.

Mrs. Pelosi says courts traditionally have deferred to Congress to write its own rules, and she said she expects that to happen this time, too.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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