A federal appeals court on Tuesday threw out a Republican lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi that had sought to take down the proxy voting system adopted by the House of Representatives to allow for remote legislating during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a 12-page opinion, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled unanimously that courts did not have jurisdiction under the Constitution to wade into the House’s rules and procedures, and that the case should be dismissed. The action upheld an earlier decision by a Federal District Court and did not examine the merits of Republicans’ claims that the proxy voting system set up in May 2020 ran afoul of the Constitution.
“The district court dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction,” Sri Srinivasan, the court’s chief judge, wrote on behalf of the panel. “The court concluded that the resolution and its implementation lie within the immunity for legislative acts conferred by the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause. We agree, and we thus affirm the district court’s dismissal of the case.”
The decision was a setback for Republicans, who must now decide whether to appeal the ruling to the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia or the Supreme Court, or simply drop their challenge. In a bad sign for Republicans’ chances of success, Judge Srinivasan was joined in the decision by Judges Judith W. Rogers, a nominee of President Bill Clinton, and Justin R. Walker, a nominee of President Donald J. Trump.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the top House Republican, did not immediately comment.
For now, the decision effectively leaves it up to the House to decide how long to leave the special pandemic procedures in place as the health threat evolves in the United States and on Capitol Hill. Democrats continue to argue that the system is necessary for safety reasons, and despite their constitutional objections, dozens of Republicans have begun casting votes by proxy, too.
Democrats celebrated the ruling but did not give any indication of how long they intended to keep proxy voting in place. The rules adopted last year require the speaker to extend the emergency authority every 45 days; the current period is set to expire in mid-August.
“This ruling upholds what the Constitution and more than 100 years of legal precedent have made clear: that the House has the ability to set its own rules,” Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of the Rules Committee, said in a statement.
He added a dig at Mr. McCarthy: “The fact that the minority leader is suing to prevent Congress from safely conducting the people’s business is unfortunate but emblematic of the way he approaches his role here.”
The House adopted special rules in May 2020, when lawmakers were scattered and stranded around the country by the raging health crisis. The changes allowed members of Congress for the first time to conduct remote committee hearings, file bills electronically and vote remotely using a proxy.
Republicans, led by Mr. McCarthy, quickly filed suit. They argued that the nation’s founders had intended for Congress to meet in person, regardless of the circumstances, and that the proxy voting system in particular violated constitutional principles. They have also promised to immediately return to normal voting procedures if they retake the majority next year.
The system has become rife with abuse. While many members using it still cite legitimate health concerns, a growing number of vaccinated lawmakers in both parties seem to view it as a useful perk, allowing them to cast votes in the House while attending political events, working in their districts or simply avoiding lengthy travel to and from Washington.
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