- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2022

The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a challenge to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s coronavirus pandemic rule allowing lawmakers to vote without being on the House floor by giving the power to cast their vote to another member.

Republicans had challenged Mrs. Pelosi’s policy, saying it opened the door to abuse of a lawmaker’s vote.

Mrs. Pelosi had described it as a necessary safety valve for lawmakers who feared contracting COVID-19 from close proximity to colleagues on the chamber floor.

Lower courts sided with Mrs. Pelosi, saying it’s not up to the courts to peer behind the curtain of how a chamber of Congress runs itself.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had asked the justices to take the case, but they declined without comment.

Mrs. Pelosi cheered the court’s move in a statement Monday and called Mr. McCarthy’s lawsuit a “sad stunt” that endangered the health of everyone on Capitol Hill.

“In doing so, they have fought harder to try to score political points than they have fought to help struggling families during the pandemic,” she said.

Under Mrs. Pelosi’s system, a lawmaker can sign a letter saying he or she can’t make it for a vote and giving permission for another member to cast the vote instead.

That vote must be announced from the chamber floor, and the letter must be filed.

A single lawmaker can cast votes on behalf of as many as 10 colleagues.

Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, announced the system in the spring of 2020, and it was instituted as lawmakers returned from an early-pandemic shutdown of operations. Mrs. Pelosi has renewed the system multiple times.

It was one of several changes she has imposed, along with voting by groups to limit the number of people on the chamber floor at one time, and new security rules that force members to go through screening before they reach the chamber.

The Senate has not instituted proxy voting for its floor action.

Mr. McCarthy had argued the designated-voter system violated the Constitution because it allowed a lawmaker’s vote — which Republicans said belongs to the people of a district, acting through their representative — to be cast by someone else.

Republicans said proxy votes have made the difference in whether some bills passed or failed.

“It wasn’t as if proxy voting was unknown to the Founders. They rejected it,” Mr. McCarthy and fellow Republicans said in their brief asking the high court to hear the case.

They pointed out that Congress voted in person during the Civil War and amid the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Mrs. Pelosi pointed out that bills pass all the time by procedures such as a voice vote or getting unanimous consent of those present, without all members having to be on the floor.

In her briefs, she conceded that the founders might have assumed that Congress would meet in person, but they didn’t require that.

“In light of the pandemic and advances in modern technology, the House has reasonably authorized Members to vote remotely by providing binding, precise instructions to a Member on the floor. That choice accords with the Constitution,” she said.

Initially, Republicans balked at taking part. But many of them have since taken advantage themselves.

Mrs. Pelosi on Monday pointed out that more than half of Republicans ended up using designated voting at some point last year.

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

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