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Image: US SUPREME COURT Building
Brendan McDermid / Reuters file

The Supreme Court ruling Trump ought to understand (but doesn't)

The Supreme Court swatted away the Republican anti-election lawsuit. Donald Trump described as "the big one."


When Donald Trump demanded that Senate Republicans confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court before last month's elections, the incumbent president was quite explicit about his intentions. Trump wasn't simply thinking about conservative jurisprudence over the next couple of decades; he was also thinking a far-right Supreme Court would help him hold power if he lost his re-election bid.

It was never altogether clear, however, how exactly this was supposed to work. The president, however, couldn't be bothered with details: Trump seemed to believe that once his allies represented a third of the Supreme Court, the justices would simply do his bidding.

That obviously hasn't worked out especially well for him. NBC News reported:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday brushed aside the lawsuit filed by Texas that sought to overturn Joe Biden's election victory in four battleground states. President Donald Trump called the case "the big one," and 126 of the 196 Republicans in the House urged the court to take it. But the justices acted quickly to turn it down.

An Associated Press analysis added, "For all Trump's predictions that the court and his justices would make things right, he and his supporters were lacking one basic element: a strong legal argument that might plausibly attract some sympathy on a court now dominated by conservative justices."

The fact that the president responded badly to the latest judicial defeat surprised no one, but it's also worth pausing to note Trump may not fully understand what actually happened late Friday afternoon.

On Twitter, for example, the outgoing president purportedly quoted a Fox News host saying, "Justices Alito and Thomas say they would have allowed Texas to proceed with its election lawsuit." Around the same time, Trump promoted a separate missive that read, "Thank you, Justice Alito. Thank you, Justice Thomas."

But Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas didn't side with the Republican plaintiffs. As Rachel explained on Friday night's show, the conservative duo have a longstanding belief that the Supreme Court should, just as a matter of course, hear cases involving states suing other states.

But Alito's brief response also explicitly said, "I would therefore grant the motion to file the bill of complaint but would not grant other relief." In other words, he would've agreed to hear the case, but he wasn't prepared to go along with the proposed Republican remedy: blocking some states from participating in today's electoral college vote.

Or as NBC News' report added, "[T]he ruling was essentially a unanimous rejection of the Texas claims."

Trump also argued over the weekend that he and his lawyers keep losing on "little technicalities," which appears to be a lazy euphemism for elements of the rule of law that the president doesn't like. If the point was that "technicalities" do not reflect the merits of the anti-election litigation, that's wrong, too.

I was especially entertained by his assertion that he and his team were "never even given our day in Court," which was hilarious given the dozens of cases in which Trump and his allies failed spectacularly in state and federal courtrooms across much of the country.

The rest of Trump's reaction was even more childish. The justices "chickened out," the Republican wrote, adding that the justices "really let us down."

I suspect there are people in Trump's inner circles who are responsible for explaining Supreme Court developments to the president. In this case, either they did a poor job, or he wasn't listening.