Washington (Reuters) – WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (Reuters) – On Monday, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit by Republican legislators to pandemic-related proxy voting procedures enacted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Democratic-led House of Representatives and designed to prevent exposure to COVID-19.
The new voting rules, which take effect in May 2020, allow members of the 435-member House to act as proxies for colleagues who are quarantined or otherwise unable to vote on the House floor. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, and other legislators had petitioned the Supreme Court to overrule a lower court judgement that permitted remote voting restrictions to remain in effect.
The House resolution authorised legislators to act as proxies for up to ten colleagues at a time, with the requirement that they notify whose members they intended to represent. The proxy voting system was implemented early in the epidemic and was initially intended to be temporary. However, it has been extended multiple times. The most recent extension runs through Feb. 13.
Republican politicians have argued that the bill violates the United States Constitution, stating that only legislators physically present in the halls of Congress have the authority to vote. Republicans also described the resolution as a mechanism for Democrats to maintain their small House majority regardless of whether their whole delegation is present on Capitol Hill.
Despite Republican resistance to the measure, members of both parties have used the proxy voting mechanism to work remotely – just like millions of other office employees in the United States.
Seven House Democrats voted via proxy last May while accompanying President Joe Biden on a visit to a Ford Motor Company facility in Michigan. The next month, while visiting the US-Mexico border with former President Donald Trump, nine House Republicans voted by proxy.
McCarthy’s legal challenge was dismissed in July by a federal appeals court. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, in affirming a previous court order, stated that it was barred from revisiting the proxy voting regulations.
The three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit noted the Constitution’s “speech or debate” clause, which protects members of Congress from litigation for activities taken as legislators.
Other restrictions aimed at ensuring members’ safety during the epidemic have been adopted by the House, including a requirement for politicians to wear face masks and a bar on congregating in an area known as the Speakers Lobby outside the House chamber. Additionally, numerous House and Senate hearings are conducted virtually. Tourists are not permitted in the Capitol building.
McCarthy and his colleagues’ legal fight exemplifies the House’s heightened partisan tensions and Republican hostility toward Pelosi. Republicans are vying to reclaim the chamber’s majority in November’s congressional elections.