Pa. secretary of state acting like she’s God

If given the opportunity, which I sought but did not receive, I would have asked acting Pennsylvania Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman just who in the hell does she thinks she is — God?

The acting secretary, acting on her own authority, has ordered the state to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that touches on voting integrity.

Acting Secretary of State Chapman, acting like God

I warn you that this is complicated, but a broad outline is provided in this NBC News story.

In brief, Pennsylvania law requires that mail-in ballots must be signed and dated. The High Court reversed a ruling by the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals that held that undated ballots should be counted. The lack of the date was “immaterial,” the 3rd Circuit ruled. The Supremes disagreed, and the Supremes have the last word. 

But not if you are Secretary Chapman. She disagreed with the Supremes and ordered that undated ballots must be counted.

This isn’t about whether or not ballots need  to be dated.

The law says ballots must be dated and if you don’t like the law — vote to change it. 

If some unelected official — Chapman — can rewrite the law on a whim, what’s next? Maybe a signature isn’t “material” either.

Following Chapman’s power grab, the GOP went to court to stop her, and a full description of the legal snake basket is in this Inquirer story.

 Read it at your own risk. It’s deep, but I don’t want to get bogged down in details. The bottom line is the law is the law.

The Founding Father geniuses designed a unique system of governing, with checks and balances to guarantee no arm of the government could be pre-eminent.

Supposedly the executive, the legislative and the judicial are co-equal partners. In reality, the courts probably have the most power, being able to easily reverse legislation, while Congress needs to put together a heavy majority to overrule a court.

The glue that holds us together is respect for, and adherence to, the courts, most especially the U.S. Supreme Court.

When its orders are disobeyed, serious trouble results.

Such as?

Such as when Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus mobilized the Arkansas National Guard in 1957 in an effort to prevent nine African-American students from integrating Central H.S., as ordered by the High Court.

President Dwight Eisenhower responded — in a move that had to break his heart — by sending federal troops into a U.S. city to escort nine brave African-Americans to the school. That was a little more than 50 years ago, when armed force backed the Court’s order. We thought that settled things.

I know in some quarters (the Left) the Supreme Court has lost some of its legitimacy now that it has a conservative majority (which recently ruled against former President Donald J. Trump, even though he nominated three of them.)

I didn’t hear “legitimacy” complaints during almost seven decades of a liberal majority. Oh, that’s ”different.” 😁

Of course, I reached out to Chapman for an explanation and was shuttled to her communications person, who emailed back: “Thanks for your request but Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman is unavailable for an interview.” I then asked “Ellen Lyon (she/her/hers)” if “I/me/him/his” could have a statement justifying Chapman’s action?

I got a link to a statement in which Chapman said, “Today’s order from the U.S. Supreme Court vacating the Third Circuit’s decision on mootness grounds was not based on the merits of the issue and does not affect the prior decision of Commonwealth Court in any way. It provides no justification for counties to exclude ballots based on a minor omission, and we expect that counties will continue to comply with their obligation to count all legal votes.”

“Minor omission,” which violated state law. And yet, the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction is the entire United States, including Pennsylvania. I ask a lawyer friend if that is not the case.

“I have to give you a lawyer answer — it depends,” said the lawyer, a Democrat.

I am taking that as a yes in this case, but the next decision will come from the Democratic-dominated state Supreme Court.

But I digress — and will again.

In the runup to the Supreme Court ruling enshrining gay marriage as a right, some elected officials jumped the gun and began marrying people even though it was against the law. The social justice warriors should have been arrested for breaking the law.

Along with the elected official who refused to issue marriage licenses after marriage equity was passed.

The law is the law. It is not a la carte. You can’t have random actors taking random actions.

There’s a common cliche used by both sides: No man person is above the law.

That includes elected officials.

If you don’t like the law — change it.

You do that through the legislature or through the courts.

You don’t just ignore laws that you don’t like.

That is anarchy. It is an attack on democracy.

21 thoughts on “Pa. secretary of state acting like she’s God”

    This is the opening remark in Wikipedia.
    Leigh M. Chapman is an American politician and voting rights activist who has served as Acting secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania since January 2022.
    Reading further, the woman has only one goal in life, VOTING.
    As I said before. You can be a divorce lawyer, but that doen’t make you Secretary of State material.

  2. I agree, Stu, that the law is the law, and that this action is simply wrong. No argument there. None whatsoever.

    But you know what else was wrong? Mitch McConnell not allowing the Senate to even consider voting to legally seat Merrick Garland on the Supreme Court when he was clearly qualified and by all acceptable norms should have been so seated. I would have had no problem with them rushing through Amy Comey Barrett (DURING the actual election, mind you!) if they had not hypocritically prevented the Garland seating some eight months before that election. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have one set of rules for a Conservative nomination and another for a liberal nomination. Doesn’t work that way, though The Turtle made sure it did. There is simply NO justification for this other than Machiavellianism.

    And you know what else is wrong? Having the (insane) Federalist Society groom and choose EVERY Conservative justice so they can have people on the high court who are there to SPECIFICALLY do their bidding, which they have clearly done.

    And you know what’s REALLY wrong? Three Supreme Court justices flat-out lying to Congress about their intent with regard to Roe v Wade. All three said this was settled law, but then immediately decided it wasn’t the second they got on the bench and had the opportunity to rule against it. Oh, and let’s not leave out one justice having a nutcase wife who is an election denier and who refuses to recuse himself from cases that involve Donald J. OrangeAsshat. Also kinda wrong.

    So if you are wondering why people have a bit of a problem with the legitimacy of this particular high court, those might be your reasons.

    And one other minor point: doesn’t it seem a bit out-of-balance to have 66% of the high Court be Catholics when only 23% of Americas are Catholic? Just sayin’.

    1. Much of your comment concerns custom, not law. And not giving Garland a hearing was wrong.
      Per religion, Jews now have one. They did have THREE — Breyer, Kagen, Ginsburg.
      Was THAT “fair”?
      And would it be anti-Semitic to raise that question? And how about the question about 6 Catholics, which is unusual.

  3. The Warren court was criticized for being too liberal. It’s just the other side of the coin when decisions are handed down by a conservative court. All mail in ballots should have a written signature and current date of signature. It is not difficult to sign and date the outer mail-in ballot envelope. Voters need to follow the rules. If there’s a need to remove a Catholic Supreme Court justice maybe Sonia Sotomayor would consider stepping down in the name of Religious equality.

  4. One of the first things Adolf Hitler did after taking power was take over the courts. He knew that the courts would/could have stopped many of the moves he had planned to make to solidify his hold on Germany. And now we see the same philosophy here in the USA: corrupt the court system by ignoring the Supreme Cout’s rulings, and soon a dictatorship of the party in power will result (no matter the party). Of ALL the actions of public officials that truly frighten me in their import are those that say it is okay to defy the law. Without law there is anarchy.

  5. I agree with you, whole-heartedly, “Freeze”, (except for the bit about religion…. don’t think that it’s really relevant)…Amy Barrett talked quite a bit about “Integrity” knowing she was being pushed through when the election had already started and knowing what had been done to Garland. That shows a total LACK of integrity. This Court voted to actually TAKE AWAY a RIGHT… Something (to my knowledge) that has never been done. And they did so by overturning a “Super Precedent”……. Yes, I too agree generally with Stu’s points but the indignation at the “acting” Attorney General at this particular time seems unwarranted. The lies and lawlessness of the MAGA movement, and it’s influence on the High Court, is the clear and present danger to our Country. Not one misguided “acting” Attorney General.

    1. I think stare decisis is ludicrous. If stare decisis had not been ignored years ago we’d still have slavery. And there is no ‘right’ to kill an unborn child; it’s a made-up ‘right’ that contradicts the RIGHT to LIFE, LIBERTY and the…well, you know the rest, even if you are too hardheaded to admit it.

  6. Isn’t the America today. Krasner doesn’t enforce laws he doesn’t like.
    Presidents write executive orders knowing they are illegal.
    Why should this woman be allowed to join the fun.

  7. “The law is the law.”(???!!!) Hey, Stu, what are you trying to do, put me out of business? When there is only one lawyer in a town, he starves. Put two lawyers in a town and they both get rich.

    The 3rd Circuit did not merely hold that the omission of the date was “immaterial”–it held that throwing out the votes was a violation of the Voting Rights Act, which specifically states, a state may not: “deny the right of any individual to vote in any election because of an error or omission on any record or paper relating to any application, registration, or other act requisite to voting, if such error or omission is not material in determining whether such individual is qualified under State law to vote in such election.” That is, it said that throwing out the ballots violated federal voting rights law. The Supreme Court didn’t reverse the 3rd Circuit–it did not say the decision was wrong–it vacated the decision for “mootness” because the election was certified and over, so the questions are now merely academic. “Vacated” means that it is as if the decision had never been made, and the suit never brought. The Voting Rights Act, though, is still on the books. The law is the law, no? Why shouldn’t it be enforced? It is the supreme law of the land under the Constitution.

    The Supreme Court could have reversed if they thought the decision was wrong, but they punted instead. Essentially, they pleaded the fifth, leaving the question wide open. Vacated cases are cited in lawsuits and legal opinions all the time–they have no binding precedential value, but they can be what lawyers call “persuasive authority.” In other words, it’s a perfectly respectable legal opinion to have, and is not at all “contrary” to any ruling of the Supreme Court. What the law is here is not cut and dried.

    On the other hand, the Pa Supreme Court has weighed in on the question (although in the most confusing manner possible–and expressly tossing out a hundred years of precedent in doing so) and has basically said, yeah, you have to throw these ballots out. But they don’t have the last word–the federal courts and, ultimately, the Supreme Court do. I doubt very much that Chapman thought for one second that this wouldn’t be challenged in Court. So yeah, the courts are going to decide what the law is. Right now, it is genuinely unclear.

      You being one of those two lawyers that you mentioned, I’m interested in your opinion on another matter.
      We elect our judges at every level within the state. Right up to the commonwealth’s Supreme Court. At the federal level, all judges are appointed. I happen to think that our judges should be appointed. Maybe magistrates can be voted in, but higher authorities need our best legal minds.
      What say you ?

      1. The short answer is that I agree with you. The long answer is that the devil is in the details. The longer answer is that good elected judges are better than bad appointed ones.
        The danger is that an appointed judge can be just as much a political hack and incompetent as an elected one. An executive with a compliant legislature approving his choices has the opportunity to put people on the bench who shouldn’t be there. One of the things I didn’t like about Trump was that he nominated more people rated “unqualified” by the bar association than any previous president. Clinton had 4. Bush had 8. Trump had 10. His Supreme Court nominations (Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barret) were all rated “well qualified”. It was not as if there is a shortage of conservatives that would be rated “qualified” not to mention to “well qualified.” The fact is that 99% of legal cases have nothing to do with ideology and politics. That’s why you see widely different majorities on the Supreme Court with liberals and conservatives all mixed up together on non-ideological cases. Most cases are about real people and businesses seeking justice. I don’t think politics or cronyism should be advanced at their expense.

    2. Key phrase: federal courts have the last word. I indicated this was complicated, and you probed it, but I will keep it simple — obey the law, as weitten.

          1. But then Chapman is arguably right. She’s complying with a reasonable reading of the Voting Rights Act, to avoid violating it. With absolute respect, Stu, the Supreme Court vacating the 3rd Circuit’s decision for being moot is not a rejection of the decision, and most certainly does not constitute a determination that those votes should not be counted under federal law. Under the law “vacate” does not have the meaning you ascribed to it.

            I read all the underlying court decisions, and one interesting fact I noticed was that all the folks who forgot to put in the date were older. The average age of the rejected voters was 71 at the time they voted–the oldest was 103. They were both dems and GOP. If the requirement is “material,” apparently it is to prevent any person who has a “senior moment” from voting.

            Part of the same statute (to which the “covid amendment” was added) also requires that the voter “mark the ballot only in black lead pencil, indelible pencil or blue, black or blue-black ink, in fountain pen or ball point pen…” Long ago (1972) the Pa. Supreme Court said ballots marked with green or red ink were fine too. Presumably, nowadays officials don’t even check for scofflaw voters using felt tip and gel pens or even Sharpies to mark their ballots illegally, even though no court has ever ruled that’s also okay.

            The more I looked into it, the stronger Chapman’s legal position became. The local board of elections, doing their job to follow the law, voted unanimously to count the votes because the omission was “not material.” True, the lower Pa. courts reversed that in a split decision (that can be summarized as “material–sch-material”) so the opposition went federal on them and won. The votes were counted and the election was determined. The key point is that the Supreme Court let the election stand, not that it vacated the 3d Cir legal opinion.

            I’m reading tea leaves here, but, legally, the controversial part of the 3rd Circuit opinion was not whether the omission was material, but a procedural question on the VRA on which the appellate courts are split–and that is what the whole first half of the 3rd Circuit opinion was about. It is the Supreme Court’s job to resolve such splits, so federal law is uniform. A “circuit split” makes it likely that the court will grant review. Denying “cert” would send a message supporting the 3rd Circuit version, while vacating it is a way of preserving the issue for it to “develop” in the lower courts, and signalling that they are waiting for “an appropriate case” to resolve the issue.

            So, while, as usual, I agree with your thesis with respect to the other examples you give, I disagree with you that Chapman’s action was an example of lawlessness. I don’t know that she sought a formal legal opinion on the matter (she should have)–the department has attorneys, presumably for purposes like this–but there is certainly a well-reasoned basis for taking the position that what she is doing is enforcing the law, not violating it. It practically writes itself. Whichever way she jumped, there was going to be a lawsuit, and I cannot blame her for choosing the likely winning side. That’s what she is supposed to do–enforce the law to the best of her judgment.

          2. I can’t argue law with a lawyer. I will stand with the plain letter of the law, that REQUIRES a date. As I said, it don’t matter “why,” it “is.”
            USSC will settle this.

  8. As per usual, she blamed trump, the war in Ukraine, tax cuts for the rich, systematic racism, trump again, supply chain issues, and covid. Oh and January 6th

  9. I agree with you Stu, the law is the law; you don’t like it, change it. That being said, can you imagine how much worse a Mastriano Secretary of State would be ? Vote for sanity, vote for Josh Shapiro.

Comments are closed.