Ruling that Joe Miller’s lawsuit contained no federal issues for him to resolve, Judge Ralph Beistline dismissed the Republican Senate nominee’s case late last night, ending for now the lengthy uncertainty over the election results. The state issued a statement shortly after the dismissal that assured Alaskans that Lisa Murkowski would receive the necessary certifications by tomorrow to allow her to take her seat on time and keep her seniority:
A judge on Tuesday dismissed Republican Joe Miller’s federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the results of the Nov. 2 election, clearing the way for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski to be sworn in for another term.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline issued a 14-page order in which he said Miller wasn’t raising any federal issues that he needed to resolve.
The judge ruled without waiting for the state to provide its defense of the election. He said state lawyers didn’t even need to respond to Miller’s latest filings. He ordered Miller’s entire federal case dismissed.
Miller’s team claims that the case had a central issue that required federal intervention:
An appeal would go before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. His lawyers contended the U.S. Constitution puts authority for regulating elections with the Legislature, not election officials.
“Specifically, should the courts be required to follow the legislature’s standard for the selection of U.S. Senators or create their own?” Miller said in a written statement. “My legal team believes that the clear language of the Election Clause as well as precedent support our claims. Thus, we are evaluating the ruling and determining what our next step should be.”
If this is the slender reed on which Miller based his federal case, then small wonder Beistline told the state it didn’t need to bother responding to it. Article I, Section 4 of the US Constitution reads:
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of Chusing Senators.
That, however, doesn’t mean that the legislatures must handle elections themselves, as even a moment’s thought would indicate. They can create agencies to handle the task under their supervision to manage elections and tally ballots. In fact, every state in the country does exactly that, and have for decades, if not centuries. The election officials at these agencies have to follow the election laws passed by the state legislatures, of course, but that was what Miller’s lawsuits in the state courts debated and eventually decided in the agency’s favor.
And unless I miss my guess, the Alaskan legislature created not just the election agency but also the path for appeals through the state court system, too. If Miller considered the state courts an illegitimate forum for determining whether the agency followed the law, why then did he bother to file lawsuits in state court in the first place? Miller tried to delegitimize the state court system altogether and seems to be arguing (a) that the legislature needs to convene to decide this issue, and/or (b) the federal courts are a more legitimate forum for determining state law than state courts. That doesn’t just fly in the face of logic, but also in the face of more than 220 years of American legal precedent.
It’s over. The only effect a further appeal would have is to enrich the lawyers a little more.
Update: Commenter Ira notes that Miller did sue in federal court first, which directed him to the state courts, as noted in yesterday’s ruling:
“On November 19, 2010, this Court issued an order abstaining from consideration of the questions of state law and referring the parties to the appropriate state tribunal pursuant to Pullman abstention. A district court abstaining under Pullman must dismiss the state law claims and stay its proceedings on the constitutional questions until a state court has resolved the state issues.”
That makes the argument a little more consistent … but still wrong.