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Wisconsin high court turns down Trump election lawsuit

Supporters of Joe Biden react at a rally in Milwaukee to news that he defeated President Trump in the election.
(Morry Gash / Associated Press)

A divided Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday refused to hear President Trump’s lawsuit attempting to overturn his loss to Joe Biden in the battleground state, sidestepping a decision on the merits of the claims and instead ruling that the case must first wind its way through lower courts.

In another blow to Trump, two dissenting conservative justices questioned whether disqualifying more than 221,000 ballots as the Trump campaign requested would be the proper remedy to the errors it alleged.

The defeat on a 4-3 ruling 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 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 that absentee ballots were administered. The lawsuit echoed claims that were rejected earlier by election officials in those counties during a recount that barely affected Biden’s winning margin of about 20,700 votes.

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Trump campaign attorney Jim Troupis said he would immediately file the case in circuit court and expected to be back before the state Supreme Court “very soon.”

“It was clear from their writings that the court recognizes the seriousness of these issues, and we look forward to taking the next step,” he said in a statement. Trump’s team made the filing late Thursday evening.

Joe Biden’s victory in Wisconsin has been certified following a partial recount that added slightly to his 20,600-vote margin over President Trump.

In asking the conservative-controlled Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case directly, Trump had argued that there wasn’t enough time to wage the legal battle by starting with a lower court, given the looming Dec. 14 date when presidential electors cast their votes.

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Swing Justice Brian Hagedorn joined three liberal justices in denying the petition without weighing in on the merits of Trump’s allegations. Hagedorn said the law was clear that Trump must start his lawsuit in lower courts where factual disputes can be worked out.

“We do well as a judicial body to abide by time-tested judicial norms, even — and maybe especially — in high-profile cases,” Hagedorn wrote. “Following this law is not disregarding our duty, as some of my colleagues suggest. It is following the law.”

The Trump campaign filed a similar lawsuit in federal court Wednesday.

As of Sunday, Trump and his lawyers were 0 for 10 in their pursuit of court-facilitated battleground victories.

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Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, in a dissent where she was joined by Justice Annette Ziegler, said she would have taken the case and referred it to lower courts for factual findings, which could then be reported back to the Supreme Court for a ruling.

But she also questioned whether disqualifying ballots was appropriate, saying that “may be out of reach for a number of reasons.”

Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote that the court “forsakes its duty” by not determining whether elections officials complied with the law and that the inaction would undermine the public’s confidence in elections. Allowing the elections commission to make the law governing elections would be a “death blow to democracy,” she wrote.

“While some will either celebrate or decry the court’s inaction based upon the impact on their preferred candidate, the importance of this case transcends the results of this particular election,” she wrote in a dissent joined by Roggensack and Ziegler. “The majority’s failure to act leaves an indelible stain on our most recent election.”

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Massive vote fraud? No. Nevada is sending one possible case to investigators as Republicans come up mostly empty in attempt to undermine Biden’s win.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers praised the court’s decision not to hear the case. “I was frankly amazed that it was not unanimous,” he said.

Trump’s lawsuit challenged procedures that have been in place for years and have never been found to be illegal.

He claimed there were thousands of absentee ballots without a written application on file. He argued that the electronic log created when a voter requests a ballot online — the way the vast majority are requested — doesn’t meet the letter of the law.

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He also challenged ballots where election clerks filled in missing address information on the certification envelope where the ballot is inserted — a practice that has long been accepted and that the state elections commission told clerks was OK.

Trump also challenged absentee ballots where voters declared themselves to be “indefinitely confined,” a status that exempts them from having to show photo identification to cast a ballot, and one that was used much more heavily this year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state Supreme Court in March had ruled that it was up to individual voters to determine their status.


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