Supreme Court Upholds Penalties Levied Against "Faithless" Electors
In a unanimous decision this week, the Supreme Court ruled that penalties imposed on electors who voted against their pledges in 2016 did not violate the Constitution.
The three so-called "faithless electors" out of Washington faced $1,000 fines for defying their electoral assignments and refusing to vote for Hillary Clinton - who won the popular vote in both states. The case also included a Colorado elector whose vote was canceled.
Electors Attempt to Break Ranks
48 states, Washington and Colorado among them, use "winner-take-all" systems to award electors to presidential candidates. The majority also have "pledge laws," statutes that demand electors cast their ballot for the candidate who wins their state's popular vote.
Reuters reported that the 2016 presidential election had an unusually high number of "faithless" electors. Ten of the 538 electors cast their ballots for someone other than the winner of their state's popular vote.
The lead plaintiffs in the case, Peter Chiafalo and Michael Baca, were slated as Democratic electors but cast their ballots for moderate Republicans rather than Hillary Clinton. They also tried to persuade electors from other states, primarily those where President Donald Trump had won, to do the same. Their hope, it seems, was to throw the election to the House of Representatives.
Constitution Allows for Pledge Requirements
The electors argued that the Constitution grants members of the Electoral College the right to vote however they wish. But, the Supreme Court held that Article II grants states broad powers to appoint electors, as well as the ability to condition that appointment. The Court has rejected this argument for decades, including Ray v. Blair in 1952.
This case took things a step further by asking the Supreme Court to determine whether a state can also penalize electors for breaking their pledge.
Justice Elena Kagan delivered the opinion for the Court, outlining the history of the Electoral College along the way. States have long sought to guarantee that electors vote for their party's winning nominee, Justice Kagan writes, and have backed up their pledge laws with sanctions for around 60 years.
Only a handful of states impose a monetary fine on faithless electors, but the Court found they are within their rights to do so:
"Article II and the Twelfth Amendment gives States broad power over electors, and gives electors themselves no rights."
- Fifth Circuit Dismisses Challenge to Texas Winner-Take-All Voting (FindLaw's Fifth Circuit)
- Montana Scholarship Program Can't Exclude Religious Schools (FindLaw's Supreme Court)
- SCOTUS: The President Can Fire the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at Will (FindLaw's Supreme Court)
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.