House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., 20 other Republican members of Congress and four constituents filed a lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asking a federal court to stop voting by proxy when the House of Representatives reconvenes May 28.
The House passed Resolution 965 on May 15, allowing the Speaker to designate a “covered period” of 45 days during which members may designate another member to vote for them, when a “public health emergency due to a novel coronavirus is in effect.” The Speaker also has the authority to “extend the covered period for an additional 45 days.”
One member could be the proxy voter for up to 10 other members. The measure also authorizes remote committee meetings and provides for “remote voting through technology during the pandemic, after a system is developed and certified.” H.R. 965 passed on a vote of 217-189, with most Democrats approving the measure and most Republicans voting against it.
Whip Steve Scalise, R-La, who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, tweeted: “House Republicans are suing Nancy Pelosi to block her proxy voting power grab that lets her unilaterally pass legislation with just 20 Members present. It’s simple: one representative should equal one vote. We can’t let her get away with this.”
The lawsuit to block proxy voting was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and alleges that H.R. 965 is unconstitutional, because it overlooks the Constitution’s requirement that Congress “actually assemble in their respective chambers when they vote, whether on matters as weighty as declaring war or as ordinary as naming a bridge.”
The complaint says, “In the 231-year existence of the United States Congress, neither the House of Representatives nor the Senate has ever permitted a Member to vote by proxy from the floor of the chamber.” It goes on to list numerous crises where Congress continued to meet, “through the Civil War; through the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812 and the terrorist attack on Washington on 9/11; and through the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 and the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.”
Speaker Pelosi addressed the lawsuit in a press release, saying, “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.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Republicans argued that “in-person meetings are the heart of the legislative process and that lawmakers should be at their workplace like other essential workers such as grocery-store clerks and doctors.”
Pelosi believes H.R. 965 will withstand the challenge, stating that “the Supreme Court made clear over a century ago that the Constitution empowers each chamber of Congress to set its own procedural rules.”