The Supreme Court refused to hear a case challenging a rule set by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi allowing members of the House of Representatives to cast votes while not present in the Capitol.
The lawsuit filed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy along with other leading Republicans in 2020 claimed proxy voting violates the Constitution’s Quorum Clause, as well as plain language that requires both chambers of Congress to meet in person. Under current House rules, one member can cast a proxy vote for up to ten colleagues, providing the members who are not present file a letter with the House clerk. Pelosi, along with other supporters argues that proxy voting is necessary to social distance and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Court did not release its reasoning for its decision. Lower courts had ruled that they could not intervene under the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause, which allows Congress to set its own rules and protects members from lawsuits for their speeches on the House and Senate floor.
During a marathon speech on the House floor in December 2021, McCarthy vowed to eliminate proxy voting.
“If you’re all thinking of running again, for those who win, no more proxy voting. You’re going to have to show up to work,” he said.
After McCarthy’s speech, which delayed the House’s vote on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better social spending package, 78 members of the lower chamber, including 49 Republicans, voted on the bill by proxy.
Of the 441 members who have served in the 117th Congress, only 80 have not filed proxy letters with the House clerk.