Chiafalo v. Washington

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: January 17, 2020
  • Case #: 19-465
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 193 Wash. 2d 380 (2019); 935 F.3d 887 (10th Cir. 2019)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the U.S. Constitution provides presidential electors discretion in casting their ballot and whether state law seeking to regulate how presidential electors vote violates the U.S. Constitution.

The consolidated Petitioners consist of government officials litigating the constitutionality of state laws that bind presidential electors to the outcome of a state’s popular vote for a president. One regime at issue derives from Colorado law, which provides a removal mechanism for electors who refuse to adhere to Colorado’s statute binding electors to the outcome of the State popular vote. The second regime at issue derives from Washington law, which imposes civil penalties on electors who do not vote for a person nominated by the political party the elector represents. The Washington Supreme Court held that states have the power to direct how electors perform their duties and that states may enforce such powers through civil penalties. However, the Tenth Circuit reached the opposite conclusion regarding Colorado law, holding that Article II and the Twelfth Amendment provide electors the right to cast a ballot with discretion and that states may not interfere. Petitioners argue to the Supreme Court that these decisions present an opportunity to resolve a conflict between courts before disruption in the electoral process arises in a contested election. Specifically, Petitioners seek clarification of interpretations of the Court’s decision in Ray v. Blair, 343 U.S. 230 (1952), which allowed states to require that electors pledge to support the nominee of their party, but did not explicitly resolve questions relating to a state’s ability to legally enforce such pledges.

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