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NV Supreme Court denies Trump campaign lawsuit seeking overturn of presidential election

Riley Snyder
Riley Snyder
Criminal JusticeElection 2020Government
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The Nevada Supreme Court has ruled unanimously to dismiss an appeal filed by President Donald Trump’s campaign seeking to overturn the state’s presidential election results.

Members of the court wrote in a 6-0 opinion published late Tuesday that the Trump campaign had failed to show any serious errors or flaws in Carson City District Court Judge James Russell’s order last week that would warrant a reversal. Russell’s order denied the campaign’s election contest lawsuit amid findings that the campaign had not backed up its claims of mass voter fraud throwing the state’s presidential election results into doubt.

The three page order states that the Trump campaign failed to identify any direct “unsupported factual findings” in Russell’s order that it wished to challenge under the appeal, and the court itself has “identified none.”

"To prevail on this appeal, appellants must demonstrate error of law, findings of fact not supported by substantial evidence, or an abuse of discretion in the admission or rejection of evidence by the district court,” members of the court wrote in their order. “We are not convinced they have done so."

Though the Trump campaign can still appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, Tuesday’s decision is yet another blow to the campaign’s multi-faceted and thus far failed effort to overturn the results of the presidential election in Nevada and a handful of other closely decided swing states where former Vice President Joe Biden prevailed over Trump. The campaign has filed a litany of unsuccessful lawsuits in other states including in Pennsylvania, where the U.S. Supreme Court earlier Tuesday denied a last-minute attempt to overturn results in that state.

Biden won a 33,596-vote victory over Trump in Nevada.

Any future appeals will face another burden — Tuesday marks what’s known as the “safe harbor” deadline, a federal election-related date by which states need to certify election results or resolve related litigation before members of the Electoral College meet to cast their votes for president on Dec. 14.

In a statement published after the ruling, the Nevada Republican Party said it was "extremely disappointed" in the court's decision and said it had "rushed to judgment in the same flawed manner" as the District Court.

"We were not afforded an opportunity to write our brief or argue the case in front of the Supreme Court," the party said in a statement. "Full denial of legitimate due process and appellate rights is truly unprecedented, shocking and extraordinary."

The Trump campaign announced that it would file a lawsuit seeking to overturn the state’s election results in mid-November during a press conference in which campaign attorney Jesse Binnall flatly declared that Trump had won the state but was thwarted by mass voter fraud. It sought to have a judge either award the state’s electoral college votes to Trump, or prevent the state from casting its six electoral votes.

The lawsuit recycled claims that Clark County’s use of an automated signature verification machine was unlawful and allowed fraudulent ballots to be counted (a claim rejected in pre-election litigation also brought by the campaign) and claimed that tens of thousands of votes were cast by improper voters, including the deceased, non-state residents and noncitizens. The campaign also submitted depositions from anonymous whistleblowers who made outlandish claims about vote totals on machines changing overnight and a pro Biden-Harris bus arriving at an early vote site in which workers were said to have filled out dozens mail ballots.

The Trump campaign requested that most of its evidence be filed under seal, meaning much of the evidence isn’t publicly viewable.

But Russell, who was assigned to the case in Carson City District Court, summarily dismissed its claims of voter fraud and request for an overturn of election results in a ruling on Friday, writing that the campaign’s evidence provided “little to no value” based on questionable or “unsound” methodology, adding that the evidence failed to show any “credible or reliable evidence that the 2020 General Election in Nevada was affected by fraud.”

The Trump campaign nonetheless appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court on Monday, saying in filings that the court failed to take into account “expert” testimony provided by the campaign and applied a higher evidentiary standard than required to prove sufficient voter fraud had occurred.

“The massive scale of illegal and improper ballots that were counted casts reasonable doubt on the outcome of the election and requires the statutory remedy of nullification,” attorneys for the campaign wrote in a supplemental filing late Tuesday.

But the order filed Tuesday by the state Supreme Court states that the Trump campaign did not demonstrate any “legal error” in Judge Russell’s application of the state’s election law contest, and that Russell did not err in applying a higher burden of proof (noting that Russell still opted to consider the evidence and reject it even under a lesser standard.)

Democrats filed the motion on Monday asking the court to dismiss the suit and certify the state’s election results, writing in a supplemental brief on Tuesday that the Trump campaign had failed to provide “even a shred of credible evidence” and that the appeal should be considered “frivolous in light of the thoroughness of their defeat and the extraordinary high bar they must satisfy to overturn the district court’s fact-bound determinations.”

“Contestants have thus far identified no legal error committed by the district court and instead offer an improper invitation to this Court to invade the factfinding ambit of the district court, reweigh the evidence, and ignore the conspicuous logical and evidentiary gaps littered throughout the record,” attorneys for the Democrats wrote in the filing.

Prior to the decision, the Trump campaign also filed a motion seeking to disqualify Justice James Hardesty from the case, stating that the judge demonstrated “actual bias or prejudice” for one of the candidates because he congratulated the state’s Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske last month for “carrying out an extraordinarily successful election.” Hardesty is a registered Democrat, but the seven members of the state Supreme Court run for office without party affiliation.

Attorneys for the president’s campaign argued that those comments essentially equated to Hardesty casting judgement on the election results, and that overseeing a case seeking to overturn the results would run afoul of rules against bias. 

Hardesty said in a written response that his comments were “an appropriately courteous and professional response and in no way reflects any predisposition or opinion by me,” and did not reflect any engagement of a judicial function or demonstrate his views regarding the facts of the case.

Other members of the Court agreed, saying in a unanimous opinion denying the challenge that they “find no basis for Justice Hardesty’s disqualification.”

Justice Elissa Cadish, who is also a registered Democrat, voluntarily recused herself from the case on Monday, saying in a disclosure that her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned based on my personal relationships with several of the named respondents.”

Updated at 10:53 p.m. to add a statement from the Nevada Republican Party.

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