WASHINGTON – A group of Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the chamber's new proxy voting system, a challenge to the rule that is set to be used for the first time Wednesday.
The House developed and passed its historic proxy voting rules this month, allowing members unable to come to Capitol Hill during the coronavirus pandemic to designate another lawmaker as their "proxy" and cast floor votes on their behalf.
The goal was to allow lawmakers to have a voice if they could not travel to Washington safely. The change came after the House passed a number of coronavirus packages that amounted to about $3 trillion, bills on which most lawmakers did not have much of a say in negotiations.
Though the unprecedented rule change passed the chamber, no Republicans voted in favor of the measure, and some questioned the constitutionality of it.
The lawsuit, led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, outlines this argument and details that under the Constitution, a majority of lawmakers must be present to take up business and vote on legislation.
"It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials, and would silence the American people’s voice during a crisis," McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement officially announcing the lawsuit. "Although I wish this matter could have been solved on a bipartisan basis, the stakes are too high to let this injustice go unaddressed."
McCarthy argued that although the Constitution allows for the House to dictate its own rules, it does not give authority to override the Constitution. "Rapid and robust legal relief is necessary," he said, though Republican aides noted that a court is not likely to interject before the House votes this week using the proxy system.
Twenty House Republicans signed on to the lawsuit, including Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. Four members of the public, each from a different state, also signed on.
The lawsuit targets Pelosi, along with the House clerk and sergeant-at-arms, and was filed in the D.C. federal district court Tuesday evening, McCarthy's office said.
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In a news conference Wednesday, McCarthy said he believed legislation passed under proxy would be unconstitutional.
Under proxy voting, he said, "the 19 million people of California will not have a voice” and will instead hand their voice over to someone else.
Any measure passed under this system, especially those that pass by slim margins in which proxies cast deciding votes, could be called into question and lead to a domino effect for years to come, according to GOP leadership aides.
The lawsuit argues that changes to how the House votes were not enacted during times of war or previous pandemics, such as the Spanish flu, which killed about 50 million people worldwide. The same can be said after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Pelosi said in a statement that the lawsuit won't block the House from moving forward.
"House Republicans’ sad stunt shows that their only focus is to delay and obstruct urgently needed action to meet the needs of American workers and families during the coronavirus crisis," she said. "The House’s position that remote voting by proxy during a pandemic is fully consistent with the Constitution is supported by expert legal analyses."
Democrats said the change enables the chamber to respond nimbly to evolving issues, including the unfolding pandemic, without putting lawmakers, their staffs and hundreds of Capitol Hill workers at risk by requiring them to meet together.
More than 50 House Democrats designated a proxy before Wednesday, when the House is scheduled to take up several measures, including an amendment to the contentious Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. No Republicans have filed notice that they intend to use a proxy, and House Republican leaders, along with the attorneys filing the lawsuit, advised them not to use the new system.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republican lawmakers file lawsuit against Nancy Pelosi over proxy voting