The US Supreme Court unanimously upheld states’ “faithless elector” laws on Monday, which either penalize or remove presidential electors who do not vote for the candidate they pledged to support. The court decided both challenges to “faithless elector” laws on the same grounds.
Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia have “faithless elector” laws. The pair of cases before the Supreme Court came from Washington and Colorado. The Washington challenge to the laws arose in 2016 when three electors failed to vote for Hillary Clinton after she won the popular vote. They instead wrote in former Secretary of State Colin Powell in hopes of spurring Donald Trump voters to join them.
Justice Elena Kagan, author of the opinion in the Washington case, claimed states did not intend electors to be “free agents.” Kagan contemplated constitutional requirements of electors, stating:
Those sparse instructions took no position on how independent from—or how faithful to—party
and popular preferences the electors’ votes should be. On that score, the Constitution left much to the future. And the future did not take long in coming.
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion, agreeing with the result, but reaching it through different reasoning. Thomas would uphold the laws based on a basic principle of federalism: states retain all powers not granted to the federal government.
This ruling comes four months before the 2020 presidential election, eliminating one of many uncertainties in the face of COVID-19.