Federal Court Dismisses Pennsylvania Republican Lawsuit Challenging Biden Voting Policies 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A federal judge dismissed a Republican-backed lawsuit out of Pennsylvania that used the radical independent state legislature theory to challenge President Joe Biden’s pro-voting executive order and Gov. Josh Shapiro’s (D) enactment of automatic voter registration. 

This dismissal is a victory for voters as the lawsuit will no longer threaten to upend policies that expand voter access and it will not advance the defunct independent state legislature (ISL) theory.  

In January, GOP legislators filed a new lawsuit invoking the ISL theory — the theory that only legislatures can regulate federal elections — to challenge the implementation of recent pro-voting developments in Pennsylvania. Republicans have been transfixed on advancing the radical theory that could upend democracy since the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the theory in the summer of 2023 when it issued its decision in Moore v. Harper

The lawsuit alleged that Biden’s Executive Order 14019, signed in 2021 to promote voting access, violates the U.S. Constitution. The executive order in question directs the federal government to look into a variety of efforts to expand voting rights, including making federal workers and resources available to help staff polling locations as well as allowing federal agencies to share data with states that wish to establish automatic voter registration efforts.

Employing the fringe ISL theory, Republican legislators argued that pro-voting changes to Pennsylvania’s elections — such as implementing Biden’s order, establishing automatic voter registration and clarifying registration rejection guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of State — are unconstitutional under the Elections Clause.  

The Republican state lawmakers argued that only Congress “can enact federal laws preempting state legal provisions regulating the times, places, and manner of Congressional elections.” Since Biden’s executive order and other challenged developments were not passed by Congress, Republicans argued that they cannot be implemented in the Keystone State.

Republicans claimed that Biden’s executive order and Pennsylvania’s implementation programs that expand voting access violated the U.S. Constitution’s Electors and Elections Clauses because they improperly regulate the “time, place, and manner” of federal elections. The complaint also argued that Shapiro’s recent enactment of automatic voter registration “is an abusive and capricious exercise of executive power” and violates the Electors and Elections Clauses. 

Today, the court dismissed the lawsuit after finding that the plaintiffs did not have standing to file the lawsuit. The plaintiffs argued that they had a right to file the lawsuit as both legislators and candidates seeking office, but the court found that they were not harmed in either of those capacities and therefore could not bring this lawsuit. The 27-page order penned by a Trump-appointed judge held that the plaintiffs “have not alleged any individualized and particularized harm” and therefore did not have standing to bring the case. 

Since adopting automatic voter registration, Pennsylvania officials have reported an uptick in registrants. Today’s dismissal is a victory for voters who will continue to benefit from the pro-voting policies implemented by both the Shapiro and Biden administrations respectively. 

Read the order here. 

Learn more about the case here.