The US Supreme Court concluded oral arguments on Wednesday for the October 2019 term by hearing two cases that may impact the upcoming presidential election.
Chiafalo v. Washington and Colorado Department of State v. Baca both ask whether the Constitution prevents a state from requiring its presidential electors to comply with the state’s popular vote when casting their votes with the electoral college.
In Chiafalo (formerly docketed as In re Guerra), several 2016 Washington Electoral College delegates appeal a $1,000 fine issued under state law which requires all electors to vote according to the party’s nominee. The challenge arose when the delegates voted for candidates other than Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, resulting in a first-time fine for electors failing to vote according to state law. One main argument by the delegates in Chiafalo was that the Washington law violates their rights under the First Amendment. Prior to the appeal to the US Supreme Court, the Washington Supreme Court affirmed the trial court decision that the state was within its rights to levy the fines against the electors, holding that “an elector acts under the authority of the State, and no First Amendment right is violated when a state imposes a fine based on an elector’s violation of his pledge.”
Similarly in Baca, electoral college delegates were denied an injunction in advance of the 2016 Electoral College in Colorado that would prevent a state law from forcing the delegates to cast their votes for the Democratic nominees. However, unlike Chiafalo, the delegates in Baca ended up casting votes for Clinton and Kaine but subsequently filed a civil rights claim under 42 USC § 1983, alleging the Colorado law is unconstitutional under Article II and the Twelfth Amendment. The State of Colorado acts as petitioner in Baca because the Tenth Circuit ruled in favor of the Baca delegates when it declared the law unconstitutional in August.