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Byrne sues Speaker Pelosi to stop House rule changes

Tuesday, Congressman Bradley Byrne, R-Montrose, announcing that he is filing a lawsuit against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, alleging that the Speaker’s new coronavirus emergency rules allowing members of Congress to proxy vote violates the United States Constitution.

“The Constitution is clear that a majority must be present for the House to conduct business,” Rep. Byrne said. “Speaker Pelosi’s attempt to allow Democrats to cast multiple ‘proxy’ votes for their colleagues is a blatant violation of the Constitution. Under rules adopted last week, as few as 22 Democrats could claim a quorum and win a vote against all 197 Republicans. This scheme gives Pelosi and her lieutenants complete and dangerous unconstitutional powers. If Democrats won’t show up to vote, they should turn the speaker’s gavel over to Leader McCarthy and the Republicans who are actually willing to show up and work for the people they represent.”

Byrne is joined in this lawsuit by 20 other Republican members of Congress led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California). The suit has been filed in D.C. Federal District Court challenging the constitutionality of H. RES 965, the House Democrats plan to vote by proxy.

“This week, House Democrats will break over 230 years of precedent and allow Members of Congress to vote by proxy on the House floor,” leader McCarthy said in a statement. “This is not simply arcane parliamentary procedure. It is a brazen violation of the Constitution, a dereliction of our duty as elected officials, and would silence the American people’s voice during a crisis. Although I wish this matter could have been solved on a bipartisan basis, the stakes are too high to let this injustice go unaddressed. That is why, along with other members of the House and our constituents, I have filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn Speaker Pelosi’s unconstitutional power grab.”

“Already, nearly 60 Democrats have written to the House Clerk to give their vote to another member, and there is one member who presently represents 5 congressional districts under this proxy scheme,” McCarthy continued. “Those numbers can and will grow, while the number of members who cast votes in person shrinks. Ultimately, as few as 20 members could control the vote of over 220 members under this rule for the foreseeable future. That is not only irresponsible leadership, it is patently unconstitutional, as 230 years of Congressional history and Supreme Court precedent make abundantly clear.”

“Worse, by changing the rules in a way that violates the Constitution itself, Democrats are creating a precedent for further injustice,” Rep. McCarthy said. “If their changes are acceptable, what stops the majority from creating a “House Rule” that stipulates the minority party’s votes only count for half of the majority party’s? This is not the representative democracy our Founders envisioned or what our Constitution allows. It is tyranny of the majority. The Speaker’s reckless and partisan decision to adopt proxy voting was done despite unified opposition from the minority and even members of her own party. This is a serious matter that will damage the integrity of the House’s actions now and in the future. While the Constitution allows Congress to write its own rules, those rules cannot violate the Constitution itself — namely, the requirement of actual assembly. Rapid and robust legal relief is necessary. The alternative — a small number of members dictating the businesses of the whole House while the people’s voice is diluted — is unacceptable and would only make it more difficult for Congress to respond in the national interest. We must assemble.”

Representing the plaintiffs is Chuck Cooper and Joel Alicea (lead counsel), and Elliott Berke (outside counsel). The plaintiffs are asking the Court to enjoin the use of proxy voting.

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The complaint alleges that proxy voting was never before authorized by the House, is unconstitutional, violating the Quorum and Yeas and Nays Clauses contained in Article I, Section 5, among other provisions.

The proxy voting was authorized due to a number of Democratic members not wishing to travel to Washington during the coronavirus pandemic claiming that they were fearful to attend due to health concerns. There was no proxy voting by members of Congress during the 1969 flu pandemic, the 1919 flu global pandemic which killed millions, or even during the Civil War when Confederate military forces threatened the Capitol. Being a member of Congress posed significant health risks in the earliest decades of this country due to problems with disease due to poor drainage at the site.

774 Americans died Tuesday from COVID-19, including 16 Alabamians, raising the American dead toll from the coronavirus to 100,579. 1,725,275 Americans have been diagnosed as infected with the novel strain of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Congressman Bradley Byrne represents Alabama’s First Congressional District. Byrne is not running for re-election.

Written By

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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