A Pennsylvania federal court on Saturday denied President Donald Trump’s request to block certification of the state’s 2020 election results in order to give his campaign lawyers time to find evidence to support their claims of a fraudulent election system and improper ballot counting.
In a scathing ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Brann criticized the lack of evidence the Trump campaign presented to support its argument to potentially disenfranchise every voter in the commonwealth who cast a ballot in the 2020 elections — nearly 7 million in all.
The ruling entirely dismissed the case filed by Trump’s campaign and two Republican voters who said their ballots were rejected for technicalities, while those cast by thousands of voters in the state’s Democratic strongholds were accepted.
“This Court has been unable to find any case in which a plaintiff has sought such a drastic remedy in the contest of an election, in terms of the sheer volume of votes asked to be invalidated,” Brann wrote in the 37-page decision.
“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption, such that this Court would have no option but to regrettably grant the proposed injunctive relief,” he wrote.
“That has not happened. Instead, this court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled … and unsupported by evidence,” Brann wrote. “In the United States of America, this cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters of its sixth most populated state. Our people, laws, and institutions demand more.”
The decision slams the door on a pivotal case in Trump’s effort to get courts to overturn election results in key states he lost to former Vice President Joe Biden. It came two days before Pennsylvania’s Monday deadline to certify its results, a precursor to formally awarding the state’s 20 electoral votes to Biden.
A state canvassing board in Michigan, which Biden also carried, is scheduled to vote on certifying its totals Monday.
Brann’s decision rejected the Trump campaign’s claims that Pennsylvania’s elections procedures were unconstitutional because they disadvantaged Trump voters and boosted those who voted for Joe Biden.
Without supplying any witness affidavits or other evidence, the campaign argued that tens of thousands of mail-in ballots should have been rejected for defects.
The Trump campaign faced an uphill battle from the start in the closely-watched case, which included arguments similar to those in lawsuits filed in other battleground states.
The campaign initially launched a legal broadside against mail voting, arguing that Pennsylvania’s secretary of the commonwealth and elections officials in seven counties with high Democratic Party enrollment created an unconstitutional, two-tiered voting system.
The campaign argued that in-person voters, who largely voted for Trump, had to abide by strictly enforced rules. People who voted by mail, who largely cast their ballots for Biden, were subject to lax rules, the campaign argued.
But the campaign abruptly shifted focus in an amended complaint that was filed as one team of lawyers departed and another entered — and as a federal appeals court ruling in a different case foreclosed certain constitutional arguments.
The second complaint focused on allegations that elections officials improperly blocked Republican watchers from meaningful access to the processing of mail ballots.
Then Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and a former New York City mayor, entered the case and the legal strategy changed yet again. This time, the Trump campaign combined many of the legal arguments of the prior complaints in a proposed third version. The lawyers accused the state’s secretary of the commonwealth and elections officials in seven Democrat-heavy counties of scheming to help elect Biden.
The proposed third complaint urged the federal court to disqualify as many as 1.5 million voters, which would have wiped out the 81,813-vote edge Biden held in Pennsylvania as of Saturday night.
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Nine election law and constitutional law experts surveyed by USA TODAY criticized the Trump campaign’s initial lawsuit. They said courts are reluctant to invalidate ballots cast by voters who followed what they believed to be the election rules.
The campaign’s allegations didn’t raise constitutional questions, said the experts, who added that mail voting is legal and used in many states beyond Pennsylvania.
Their criticism sharpened as the Trump campaign kept changing its arguments.
“I have never seen a high-profile case like this cycle through so many sets of lawyers so quickly, nor a high-profile election case not handled by election law and federal court and appeals court specialists,” Richard Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of Election Law Blog, wrote in an email.
“The claims are both legally and factually faulty,” Hasen wrote.
Kermit Roosevelt, a constitutional law expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said the Trump campaign is “sending the message that election outcomes that go against Republicans are inherently illegitimate and need not be accepted — even if there is no evidence and no plausible legal argument that anything was wrong with the election.”