MADISON, Wis. (CN) — Wisconsin’s highest court declined 4-3 Thursday to take up President Donald Trump’s lawsuit seeking to reverse general election results in a state he lost by over 20,000 votes, delivering a blow to the president’s last-ditch effort to take the battleground’s 10 electoral votes.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s brief order provided no rationale for denying the petition other than the fact that state law required Trump to bring his challenge to election results in circuit court, not the state’s highest judicial body.
Trump’s petition asked the high court to toss more than 220,000 absentee ballots his campaign claims were unlawfully cast and improperly counted and order Democratic Governor Tony Evers to decertify the results that were canvassed and made official at the state level on Monday.
This came after Trump paid $3 million for a recount of liberal Milwaukee and Dane counties, which ultimately added 87 votes to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
The petition cited multiple absentee voting practices the campaign alleged were illegal as part of “a pattern of activities improperly undertaken that affected the election,” but the court was not convinced, handing Trump a loss similar to those he suffered trying to reverse Biden’s wins in battlegrounds like Michigan and Pennsylvania.
The court’s three-justice liberal bloc was joined by conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn in Thursday’s majority decision, while the other three members of the court’s conservative majority dissented.
Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley and Chief Justice Patience Roggensack, both conservatives, argued in their separate dissenting opinions that the supreme court had a constitutional responsibility to promptly decide the legal questions Trump presented in his petition involving allegedly unlawful practices by the Wisconsin Elections Commission, or WEC, and other state election officials.
Grassl Bradley, an appointee of Republican former Governor Scott Walker, wrote that “the majority takes a pass on resolving the important questions presented by the petitioners in this case, thereby undermining the public’s confidence in the integrity of Wisconsin’s electoral processes not only during this election, but in every future election.”
The justice railed that “alarmingly, the court’s inaction also signals to the WEC that it may continue to administer elections in whatever manner it chooses, knowing that the court has repeatedly declined to scrutinize its conduct.”
There has been no verified evidence presented that the WEC, state election clerks or anyone else perpetuated widespread fraud or took part in or encouraged illegal voting during Wisconsin’s general election, despite a recount of its two most populous counties and a legislative probe ordered by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, perhaps the most powerful member of the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature.
Hagedorn defended rejecting Trump’s petition in a concurring opinion Thursday, saying that challenges to election results are governed by law and the law clearly states that the exclusive judicial remedy for those challenges is in circuit court.
“Following the law is not disregarding our duty, as some of my colleagues suggest. It is following the law,” said Hagedorn, who also argued that circuit courts are better positioned to carry out the necessary fact-finding for the case and that the high court should “abide by time-tested judicial norms” despite the high-profile nature of the president’s lawsuit.
It was not clear Thursday whether the president will pursue a legal challenge in circuit court. James Troupis, an attorney based in Cross Plains, Wisconsin, representing Trump in his lawsuit, could not be immediately reached for reaction to the supreme court’s decision and comment on pursuing further legal action over the election results.
The Trump campaign also could not be immediately reached for comment on the ruling and the possibility of further litigation.
Despite Thursday’s blow to Trump’s election reversal efforts, there are at least three other legal challenges to the 2020 election results being pursued in Wisconsin courts.
On Tuesday, Sidney Powell, a Trump advocate and Texas-based attorney no longer officially affiliated with his campaign, filed a complaint in Milwaukee federal court on behalf of a Republican presidential elector and a Republican candidate that lost the general election race for Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District seat. However, that candidate, Derrick Van Orden, tweeted Tuesday afternoon that he was included in the complaint without his permission and is not involved with the legal effort.
Powell’s lawsuit makes claims of illegal votes denying Trump’s reelection similar to the president’s petition, with the addition of her now familiar claims regarding an alleged scheme by election software firm Dominion Voting Systems to manipulate ballot counting in favor of Biden.
Chief U.S. District Judge Pamela Pepper, a Barack Obama appointee, issued a simple ruling in that lawsuit on Tuesday pointing out a number of basic procedural errors in the complaint and attachments, which included mention of apparently nonexistent motions and orders and stated to have provided notice to the defendants even though it was not yet clear that had been done.
Pepper stated that if Powell and the plaintiffs actually had provided notice to the adverse parties, those parties will have 21 days to respond. This would extend beyond the federal safe harbor deadline for election results challenges on Dec. 8 and when the Electoral College plans to convene on Dec. 14.
As of Thursday afternoon the federal lawsuit’s docket showed attorneys appearing on behalf of defendants Governor Evers and the WEC, as well as a motion to intervene with brief filed by a Verona, Wisconsin, attorney saying he voted in Dane County and would be disenfranchised if the court grants the relief Powell is seeking.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court is also considering two other lawsuits challenging the general election on Trump’s behalf.
One lawsuit from the Wisconsin Voters Alliance challenges 156,807 votes it says were illegally cast and $6 million in grants the nonprofit Center for Technology and Civil Life gave to the cities of Racine, Madison, Kenosha, Milwaukee and Green Bay to conduct their elections. The other is from a Chippewa County voter who wants any ballots cast via drop boxes invalidated.