Opinion: Trump’s lawsuits won’t make a difference

Names are checked on ballots as the 2020 vote count began in Macomb County, Mich.
An election inspector checks the names of voters as the counting of 2020 ballots begins on election day in Warren, Mich.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

On Saturday, as Joe Biden’s supporters were dancing in the streets, President Trump played golf and released a statement that read in part: “The simple fact is this election is far from over. Beginning Monday, our campaign will start prosecuting our case in court to ensure election laws are fully upheld and the rightful winner is seated.”

Will the Trump lawsuits matter? The answer is no. The suits will be dismissed quickly or over the coming weeks, as states go through the process of certifying vote counts. The tally so far tells the tale: As of Sunday, Trump and his henchmen were 0 for 10 in their pursuit of court-facilitated battleground victories.

The president and his allies deeply misapprehend the role of the courts. Courts exist to remedy harms, not to entertain frustrations or commiserate with every unfairness. Even if complaints of “fraud” or lesser rule-breaking are well-taken, no harm can be remedied because the overall result of the election won’t change.


Despite Trump’s apparent hope that the conservative majority he placed on the Supreme Court will pull his prospects from the fire, his scattershot, ragtag claims are not analogous to what was at issue in Bush vs. Gore. In 2000 in Florida, the courts, up to the Supreme Court, intervened in the context of an ongoing recount involving a razor-thin margin (in the hundreds) in the one state where the outcome would determine the overall victor. And once the court upheld the equal protection claim that George W. Bush brought (some votes counted in a nonstandard way), it could order relief that changed the situation on the ground. In constitutional language, the claim was redressable.

Compare Trump’s lawsuits, the 10 he has already has lost as tracked by Marc E. Elias, Democratic election law specialist. They all raise objections about dozens or, at most, hundreds of votes, not enough to affect the overall outcome of the election. For example, in Pennsylvania, some Republican observers say they weren’t allowed to be close enough to the action during the count; the court permitted the observers to move from 10 feet away to six feet away. Or in Arizona, a suit, since withdrawn, claimed some ballots were improperly rejected because they were filled out with a Sharpie.

Joe Biden won. Trump’s flurry of lawsuits serves only to keep the wound open for his supporters, encouraging the false and unhealthy view that the 2020 election was somehow illegitimate. Unsurprisingly and unfortunately, the president’s legal maneuvering only proves he’s a sore loser, and one who will continue to sow discord once he is out of office.

Harry Litman writes a legal affairs column for Opinion. @HarryLitman