Supreme Court Smacks Down Kevin McCarthy’s Last-Ditch Effort to Block Pelosi’s Pandemic Proxy Voting Procedures

 
nancy pelosi smiling with gavel and kevin McCarthy in the background january 2019

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Supreme Court of the United States smacked down a lawsuit filed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) challenging one of the pandemic-era House rules put in place by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), declining to take up the case and allowing the decision of the lower court rejecting the challenge to stand.

The controversy relates to new voting procedures that were approved on a largely party-line vote in the Democrat-controlled House in May 2020. Under the new rules, House members could cast proxy votes on behalf of up to 10 other members, and Committees were allowed to hold hearings and conduct bill markups via remote online hearings. This was the first time that Congress allowed House members to vote without being physically present.

The report by Politico’s Katherine Tully-McManus noted that McCarthy had sought to invalidate the rules allowing proxy voting by objecting to the procedure as “unconstitutional,” but this argument had been rejected by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. A three-judge panel had unanimously ruled in July 2021 that the courts did not have the jurisdiction to interfere with the internal legislative matters of the House under the “speech-or-debate clause” found in Article I, Section 6, clause 1 of the Constitution, affirming an earlier opinion from a Federal District Court.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal without issuing a written opinion, essentially blocking the case “at the courthouse door” and allowing the appellate court’s ruling to remain intact as the final word in the case.

Since the new rules were enacted, numerous House Republicans objected to them, including signing on to McCarthy’s lawsuit, but many of them also took advantage of the opportunity to skip out on in-person voting in D.C. when they found it to be convenient.

Voting by proxy required the members to file a form with the House Clerk requesting that another member be permitted to cast a proxy vote for them, stating “I am unable to physically attend proceedings in the House Chamber due to the ongoing public health emergency.” In February 2021, CNN’s Kaitlan Collins called out thirteen Republicans who filed a proxy form but attended the crowded CPAC conference in Orlando instead.

The actual reason various House members have voted by proxy ranges widely. Tully-McManus also noted that GOP Conference Chair Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) had publicly stated her objections to proxy voting, saying that Republicans “believe in in-person voting” and were “committed” to ending it if they won back the House. However, Stefanik herself voted by proxy several times in the weeks following the birth of her child last year.

In fact, over 150 GOP House members had removed their names from McCarthy’s lawsuit over the past year, many of them having voted by proxy at least once. Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) was the only one whose name remained on the suit with McCarthy’s, and he stated on Monday that while he “believe[d] strongly that Congress should indeed police itself,” he still maintained that proxy voting was “a blatantly unconstitutional scheme.”

“Furthermore, the legislative process cannot properly be performed by proxy; we have a moral duty to the Americans we represent to actually show up for work and deliberate the issues affecting them in person,” Roy added.

Like Stefanik, Roy said that he supported “ending this unconstitutional absurdity when Republicans retake the majority.”

In the meantime, however, Pelosi’s will reigns supreme — at least until any changes in partisan control are wrought by the midterm elections when new House members are sworn into office a year from now, or until the pandemic is no longer a national emergency such as would trigger ending the proxy voting rules.

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