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Supreme Court justices worry about 'chaos' in electors dispute

Video credit: Reuters Studio
Published on May 14, 2020 - Duration: 02:36s

Supreme Court justices worry about 'chaos' in electors dispute

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday indicated skepticism toward whether "electors" in the Electoral College system may disregard laws directing them to back the candidate who prevails in their state's popular vote.

This report produced by Chris Dignam.

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Supreme Court justices worry about 'chaos' in electors dispute

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in two closely watched cases involving the complex Electoral College system and whether or not "electors" - who decide the winner of presidential elections - are free to disregard laws directing them to back the candidate who won their state's popular vote.

The cases centered on so-called "faithless electors" who did not vote for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Electoral College even though she won the popular vote in their states.

The electors did not change that election's outcome.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: "I don't understand your point about rigidity." Both liberal and conservative justices grilled the lawyers representing the electors from Colorado and Washington state, saying if enough electors voted for any candidate they wanted despite a promise to support the popular-vote winner, it could upend an election.

Conservative Justice Brett Kavanuagh said it could potentially lead to chaos, which the lawyer representing the Washington state electors had to concede.

KAVANAUGH: "If it's a close call or a tie-breaker we shouldn't facilitate or create chaos." LAWYER LAWRENCE LESSIG: "Yes, on the one side, you might worry that there's increased risk of, quote, chaos." Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas asked a lawyer representing Colorado's electors what would stop them from voting for a fictional character.

THOMAS: "... the elector who had promised to vote for the winning candidate could suddenly say, 'You know, I'm going to vote for Frodo Baggins and I really like Frodo Baggins.'

And you're saying under your system, you can't do anything about that." LAWYER JASON HARROW: "Your Honor, I think there is something to be done because that would be a vote for a nonperson.

You know, no matter how big a fan many people are of Frodo Baggins." The justices also must decide if states can punish faithless electors with monetary fines or removal from the role.

A lower court upheld the $1,000 fine against the faithless electors in Washington state.

Another court concluded that the Colorado elector's constitutional rights were violated when state officials canceled his vote.

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