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Supreme Court blows off Kevin McCarthy's odd lawsuit

House Republicans were so outraged by proxy voting, they literally made a federal case out of it. Fortunately, the Supreme Court didn't care.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent much of 2021 making strange and unfortunate decisions, but his litigation against proxy voting has long been one of the most curious. As NBC News reported, as of this morning, the case is no more.

The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to House rules allowing proxy voting, a system adopted during the Covid pandemic. McCarthy asked the high court last September to overturn the proxy voting rules, which allow lawmakers to cast votes through a colleague so that they don't need to be physically present in the House chamber.

Let's recap how we arrived at this point. As regular readers may recall, as the Covid-19 crisis started taking a severe national toll in 2020, House Democratic leaders came up with a temporary fix intended to limit lawmakers' exposure. Under the plan, lawmakers who hoped to avoid the floor of the Capitol — because they were experiencing symptoms, because someone in their household was ill, etc. — could cast votes by proxy.

It wasn't complicated: Members could reach an agreement with like-minded colleagues, who in turn would agree to vote on their behalf. The system ensured that many representatives could participate in the legislative process during a pandemic without endangering themselves or their colleagues.

For reasons I've never fully understood, Republicans were outraged — or at least pretended to be outraged in public. It led McCarthy and 20 other GOP House members to file a federal lawsuit in May 2020, challenging the constitutionality of proxy voting.

A district court rejected the case, concluding that it wasn't up to the judiciary to intervene in how the legislative branch established its own procedural rules. Last summer, a federal appeals court unanimously agreed and threw out the case. Even a Trump-appointed appellate judge concluded that the case deserved to be rejected.

The House minority leader decided to keep fighting anyway, though as of this morning, the would-be House Speaker appears to have run out of options.

That's just as well. Not only was the case misguided, it was also ironic: While GOP leaders cried foul when Democrats created the proxy system, many Republican members have since embraced the model with some enthusiasm.

Indeed, though the system was intended to address the Covid-19 crisis, some Republicans haven't just accepted the proxy rules, they've also abused them, voting by proxy while appearing at events such as the Conservative Political Action Conference. McCarthy and other GOP leaders — the ones who literally made a federal case out of the temporary model — said very little when their own members started taking advantage of the system.

House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik went so far as to say at a press conference last week, "We believe in in-person voting. When Republicans win back the House, that's what we are committed to." What the New York congresswoman neglected to mention is that she recently voted by proxy in order to attend a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago.

As for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when the proxy system was first created, it was designed to be temporary, with the Speaker in a position to extend the emergency authority every 45 days.

Last month, Pelosi extended proxy voting through at least Feb. 13.