House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy listens as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi talks during a signing ceremony after the House passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. File Photo by Stefani Reynolds/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a lawsuit filed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over proxy voting rules she set for the lower chamber during the COVID-19 pandemic.
McCarthy, the top House Republican, petitioned the Supreme Court in September to overturn a decision from a federal appeals court panel that unanimously agreed in July that courts could not review internal House rules.
The Supreme Court did not provide a reason for why it had decided to turn down hearing the Republican challenge.
The proxy vote rules were put into place just weeks after COVID-19 had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and allowed members of Congress to cast votes without physically being present for the first time in the lower chamber's history.
"Congress convenes in person. For 231 years, the people's representatives and agents assembled face-to-face to deliberate and otherwise 'do business' of their respective Houses," lawyers for McCarthy wrote in their petition to the Supreme Court.
Lawyers for McCarthy noted that the Founding Fathers had considered proposals to permit proxy voting when deliberating over the Articles of Confederation and at the Constitutional Convention.
"They were rejected both times," the lawyers wrote. "Since then, as constitutionally prescribed, only members actually present within the halls of Congress could cast their votes."
Lawyers for Pelosi argued in their response to the petition by McCarthy that the precedent for changing quorum rules was set even before the 1918 flu pandemic, during which one bill passed with fewer than 50 members physically present.
"During the 1918 flu pandemic, a majority could not safely assemble on the House floor. Operating on the presumption that a quorum is present unless demonstrated otherwise, the House passed legislation without a physically present quorum under its "unanimous consent" practice," lawyers for Pelosi wrote.
Now, representatives can file a letter with the House clerk allowing another lawmaker to cast their vote in their absence if they are unable to attend a vote because of the ongoing public health emergency.
Republicans have criticized the practice for allowing Democrats to hold a slim majority on crucial votes even without having lawmakers present -- but have also taken advantage of the ability to vote by proxy.
Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., has said that Republicans "believe in in-person voting," but she used the ability to vote by proxy after giving birth last year, Politico noted.