Conservative Justice Hagedorn joins progressives in telling the president he must follow the regular path through lower courts first.
The 2020 spring “pandemic election” and the contentious fall presidential election crossed paths Thursday when a narrow 4-3 vote of the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected President Donald Trump’s bid to have more than 200,000 legally cast ballots thrown out.
Conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn voted with progressive justices Jill Karofsky, Rebecca Dallet, and Ann Walsh Bradley in directing the president’s reelection campaign to first follow the regular path through lower courts.
Had Karofsky not defeated conservative incumbent Dan Kelly in April, Hagedorn’s defection might not have been enough to stop justices Rebecca Bradley, Annette Ziegler, and Chief Justice Pat Roggensack from fast-tracking Trump’s effort to up-end the victory that Wisconsin voters gave to President-elect Joe Biden.
“The majority takes a pass on resolving the important questions presented by the petitioners in this case,” wrote Rebecca Bradley, though the “important questions” she sought to immediately consider involve still evidence-free accusations about ballots cast in only two of Wisconsin’s 72 counties.
Hagedorn wrote that state statutes are clear that in election disputes “these actions should be filed in the circuit court, and [state law] spells out detailed procedures for ensuring their orderly and swift disposition.”
“Following this law is not disregarding our duty, as some of my colleagues suggest,” Hagedorn writes. “It is following the law.”
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“We welcome the direction of the Supreme Court to file in Dane and Milwaukee counties as we pursue making certain that only legal votes count in Wisconsin—and we will immediately do so,” said Jim Troupis, Wisconsin counsel for the campaign. “It was clear from their writings that the court recognizes the seriousness of these issues, and we look forward to taking the next step. We fully expect to be back in front of the Supreme Court very soon.”
The legal defeat was the latest in a string of losses for Trump’s post-election lawsuits. Judges in multiple battleground states have rejected his claims of fraud or irregularities.
Trump had asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to disqualify more than 221,000 ballots in the state’s two biggest Democratic counties, alleging irregularities in the way absentee ballots were administered. His lawsuit echoed claims that were earlier rejected by election officials in Milwaukee and Dane counties during a recount that barely affected Biden’s winning margin of about 20,700 votes.
Trump has also filed a similar suit in federal court.
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Trump’s legal team is specifically looking to toss: 170,140 in-person absentee ballots that did not have a separate written application (in fact, ballot envelopes count as applications for early in-person voting); 5,517 absentee ballots where clerks “cured” the envelopes (curing is a legal, common practice); 28,395 absentee ballots where voters claimed the “indefinitely confined” status (state law leaves it up to the voter to consider themselves indefinitely confined or not); and 17,271 absentee ballots returned to clerks in Madison at ballot collection events.
That adds up to 221,323 ballots the campaign hopes to throw out in a last-ditch effort to deliver Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes to Trump.
Attorneys for Gov. Tony Evers called the state lawsuit an “assault on democracy” and urged the court not to accept original jurisdiction of the case.
“President Trump’s (lawsuit) seeks nothing less than to overturn the will of nearly 3.3 million Wisconsin voters,” Evers’ attorneys said in filings with the court. “It is a shocking and outrageous assault on our democracy. … He is simply trying to seize Wisconsin’s electoral votes, even though he lost the statewide election.”
Two other lawsuits filed by conservatives are still pending with the Wisconsin Supreme Court seeking to invalidate ballots cast in the presidential election. In addition to Trump’s federal lawsuit, there is another one in federal court with similar claims from Sidney Powell, a conservative attorney who was removed from Trump’s legal team.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.