The court said it would take up the case of Chiafalo v. State of Washington, where three so-called “faithless electors” who were fined after voting in 2016 for Colin Powell are challenging whether a state can bind an elector to select the state’s popular vote winner.
In the faithless elector case, advocates for the court’s intervention say the issue needs urgent resolution in an era of intense political polarization and the prospect of a razor-thin margin in a presidential election, although so-called faithless electors have been a footnote so far in American history.
The justices will hear arguments in April and should issue a decision by late June.
About 30 states require presidential electors to vote for the states’ popular vote winner, and electors almost always do so anyway. Under the Constitution, the country elects the president indirectly, with voters choosing people who actually cast an Electoral College ballot for president. It takes 270 votes to win.
The case arises from the 2016 presidential election. Three Hillary Clinton electors in Washington state and one in Colorado refused to vote for her despite her popular vote win in both states. In so doing, they hoped to persuade enough electors in states won by Donald Trump to choose someone else and deny Trump the presidency.
The federal appeals court in Denver ruled that electors can vote as they please, rejecting arguments that they must choose the popular vote winner. In Washington, the state Supreme Court upheld a $1,000 fine against the three electors and rejected their claims.
The court also said Friday it would hear appeals over employer religious objections to contraception coverage in Trump v. Pennsylvania, and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania.
The appeals involve whether forcing religious objectors to provide health plans that include contraceptive coverage violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Some states are now challenging new rules creating broader “conscience” exemptions to the regulatory requirements.
“The Supreme Court of the United States needs to protect once and for all the Little Sisters of the Poor and people of all faiths from government-forced violations of their religious beliefs,” said Stephanie Taub of the First Liberty Institute. “We are confident the justices will again respect the religious liberty of all religious non-profits and reverse the Third Circuit’s dangerous decision.”
The case over insurance coverage for contraceptives to women stems from President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
“Allowing employers and universities to use their religious beliefs to block employees’ and students’ birth control coverage isn’t religious liberty — it’s discrimination,” said Brigitte Amiri, deputy director at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “The Trump administration’s attempt to take away people’s insurance coverage for contraception is one of the administration’s many attacks on access to abortion and contraception, and we hope the Supreme Court will uphold the lower court’s ruling blocking this awful law.”
The high court will review an appeals court ruling that blocked the Trump administration rules because it did not follow proper procedures. The new policy on contraception, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, would allow more categories of employers, including publicly traded companies, to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious objections.
The policy also would allow some employers, though not publicly traded companies, to raise moral objections to covering contraceptives.
Employers also would be able to cover some birth control methods and not others. Some employers have objected to covering modern, long-acting implantable contraceptives, such as IUDs, which are more expensive and considered highly effective in preventing pregnancies.