After more than 30 defunct lawsuits in 30 days, attempts by President Donald Trump and his backers to overturn the election of Joe Biden as the next president have failed in court – sometimes repeatedly, with judges gutting claims and shutting down all possible legal avenues to interfere with the Electoral College.
The President’s effort isn’t stopping, with more lawsuits and appeals getting filed almost daily and more than $170 million raised in response to pleas for cash from Trump.
But officials across the country confirmed that the 2020 vote was secure. Biden’s victories have already been certified in six of the most closely contested states – Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. His wide Electoral College win over Trump is secured, and will be formalized this month.
Judges have rejected Trump’s attempts so thoroughly over the past few weeks, they’ve shut down the cases on nearly every question they’re asked. One federal judge in Pennsylvania, Matthew Brann, wrote he couldn’t do what the Trump campaign and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani wanted because it would be unconstitutional. A judge in Michigan, Timothy Kenny, explained point by point why witness statements suspecting fraud fell short.
A judge on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court wrote in a concurring opinion last weekend, which denied a Republican attempt to throw out millions of absentee votes in the state, that the court shouldn’t “lend legitimacy to such transparent and untimely efforts to subvert the will of Pennsylvania voters.”
Even appellate Judge Stephanos Bibas, who was appointed by Trump, wrote that the President’s campaign had no specific allegations or proof to merit overturning Biden’s win in Pennsylvania. “Voters, not lawyers, choose the president,” he wrote as part of the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals decision rejecting a Trump campaign request to revive a lawsuit last week after Brann, a longtime Republican, bounced Giuliani and the campaign out of his trial court.
And yet, Trump’s dreams linger in court. Ongoing cases still look to push false narratives of fraud – often built on their disbelief of Biden support in heavily Democratic cities and unhappiness with absentee voting.
In these and several other cases since the election, the general approach has been for voters, poll watchers, Republican electors, the Republican Party or the Trump campaign itself to sue claiming they suspect fraud, either by providing data of Biden’s support especially among mailed-in ballots or witness statements that are largely hearsay or conjecture.
In many of the cases, the Trump backers have said they don’t have evidence yet, but want to review ballots or confidential elections data more closely to see if they can find proof of fraud. While state judges determined the evidence hasn’t existed, federal judges have repeatedly said they can’t throw out thousands or millions of votes because of the suspicions of a few citizens, especially after an election has ended and been confirmed that the voters’ choice of a winner is sound.
Next try: Supreme Court?
A handful of unsuccessful Republican litigants, including the Trump campaign, are primed to ask the US Supreme Court for help related to Pennsylvania. Voters and a Republican congressional candidate in Pennsylvania have already appealed to the high court over a ruling that says they don’t have the ability to make broad constitutional claims alleging the possibility that their votes were diluted through fraud.
In another case related to Pennsylvania, US Rep. Mike Kelly and other Republicans initially attempted then retreated from a request to the US Supreme Court to nullify the certification of Biden’s win in the state after their petitions fell flat before the state’s Supreme Court.
There’s no indication the US Supreme Court would do anything nearing overturning election results. The court may not even look at the cases, especially after the justices have sat for weeks on a separate request to grapple with unresolved legal questions about the few thousand ballots in Pennsylvania that were mailed by Election Day but received in elections offices afterward.
“The Supreme Court sets its own docket. I’m running out of ways to describe how unthinkable it is that they would reach out and choose to take any of these cases” that Trump has pushed for after the election, Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor and elections law expert, said Monday. “The cases are embarrassments.”
New cases on old grounds
Some around Trump’s legal circle have continued to keep election allegations alive, by bringing more than a dozen new cases since the week of Thanksgiving that appear to trod the same ground where they had already failed so thoroughly.
The newer efforts include representations by Sidney Powell, the defense attorney of now-pardoned former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Powell appeared at a campaign news conference alongside Giuliani and others before Thanksgiving, pushing theories about a dead Venezuelan dictator corrupting American vote counting in a vast communist conspiracy, while providing zero evidence. She was pushed aside by the campaign in the following days, because she was reportedly too extreme even for Trump.
On Sunday night, federal Judge Timothy Batten in northern Georgia ordered elections officials in Cobb, Gwinnett and Cherokee counties to refrain from wiping their voting machines for 10 days while the court considers key questions in the case.
By Monday afternoon, the judge said the case may face quick appeals first, and an appeal is already in process – from Powell’s team, who is unhappy the judge didn’t do more. Powell has also launched new cases in Wisconsin and Arizona this week, sometimes bungling even basic procedural steps, such as failing to serve the lawsuit to defendants quickly or failing to get clearance to represent parties named in the suit.
Even Republicans in Georgia have blasted the allegations in court, which have come from Powell and the well-known conservative attorney Lin Wood. Though Georgia has already conducted a hand recount of ballots and determined Biden won the state, Wood and others have tried in a handful of suits to block the result after alleging fraud, such as by having a poll watcher testify that she thought the clean, unfolded paper of some absentee ballots that voted for Biden looked suspicious.
On Monday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said disinformation alleging election fraud was exploitative and “being spread by dishonest actors,” and state election official Gabe Sterling called claims in lawsuits about votes being switched by a machine “insanity … fever dream, made up, internet cabal.”
In Arizona, a state judge is planning to hold a hearing Thursday in a case where the state Republican Party will be allowed to review 200 random ballots: 100 mail-in ballots and 100 duplicated ballots, which may be military and overseas ballots. Lawyers for the secretary of state questioned whether allowing the review of envelopes was legal, but the judge said he was allowing it in anticipation that the case would be appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court and he was erring on the side of transparency “and to air these things out so that whatever the results are we can be confident in them.”
This comes following several lawsuits in the state that alleged, among other things, that some ballots cast on Election Day were not counted, in part because of the use of Sharpies on them. In those suits, Republicans and the Trump campaign initially made vast allegations of voter confusion and missing votes. Judges dismissed several of the complaints and the campaign ultimately dropped its lawsuit after conceding that the number of votes at issue wouldn’t change the outcome of the election.
On Wednesday, Trump announced his latest lawsuit: a federal case in Wisconsin, alongside Powell’s effort there. In it, lawyers for Trump argue that a federal court should refer the election results to the state legislature, because of issues they take with election administration, saying state and local leaders tainted more than 50,000 ballots. The Wisconsin legislature is controlled by Republicans.
This lawsuit followed a quickly rejected complaint in Wisconsin, sent directly to the state’s Supreme Court, which sought to throw out more than 221,000 votes from the state’s vote total because of grievances the campaign had with how elections officials allowed absentee ballots to be cast by voters in good faith.
And in Michigan, two voters, one of whom is part of the group Black Voices for Trump, went directly to the Michigan Supreme Court to stop electors from voting for Biden. Their complaints center on their concern over absentee voting and election procedures at the TCF Center in Detroit, one of the vote-processing locations that many of the post-election lawsuits have targeted unsuccessfully. Michigan law allows for cases like these when anyone feels aggrieved by the state board of canvassers.
But even then, with recounts already done, Biden certified as winning the battleground states by tens of thousands of votes and Electoral College deadlines approaching, the cases are dead on arrival.
“Honestly, at this point it doesn’t matter,” Levitt said. “Nothing will have much effect on anything. This election’s over.”
All about the money
What’s left to gain in the court proceedings, Levitt said, appears to be largely extralegal – namely, using the proceedings to spread conspiracy theories on social media and cut into the confidence Americans have in elections, the democratic system and even next month’s Georgia US Senate runoffs.
The cases also stand to bring massive political donations to Trump and his supporters. Already, the President and his new Save America political action committee have raised more than $170 million since Election Day – a massive amount, especially for a President who’s lost his office – at least in part generated from the more than 500 email and text pitches his campaign has sent since Election Day, often seeking donations in response to its claims of election fraud.
Three-quarters of the funds raised go to the new leadership PAC, according to the fine print on the pitches.
This story has been updated with new information on various lawsuits.
CNN’s Samira Said, Renee Baharaeen, Jessica Schneider, Kara Scannell, Ariane de Vogue, Marshall Cohen, Jason Morris, Tori Apodaca, Betsy Klein, Jeremy Diamond and Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.