Federal Judge Rules Nancy Pelosi’s Major Achievement Was Unconstitutional

By Robert Cunningham, updated on February 29, 2024

In a historic ruling, the very foundation of our democratic process has been called into question.

A federal judge declared the House's use of proxy voting to pass a $1.7 trillion budget unconstitutional, marking a significant challenge to the legislative practices shaped under Nancy Pelosi's leadership.

The Unprecedented Nature of Proxy Voting and Its Fallout

The decision, rendered by U.S. District Court Judge James Wesley Hendrix on a Tuesday, has sent ripples through the corridors of power. Hendrix's critique was not aimed at the budget's content but squarely at the method by which it was passed through proxy voting. This method, previously unheard of in the annals of Congressional history, allowed members to cast their votes without being physically present.

The budget, a colossal $1.7 trillion package, was passed on December 23, 2022. It was celebrated as the last major achievement of Nancy Pelosi's term as the Speaker of the House, passing with a narrow margin of 225-201 votes. However, the process used to pass this budget has now been scrutinized for its constitutionality, casting a shadow over its legitimacy.

Proxy voting was introduced in 2020 as a temporary measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its goal was to ensure the government's functioning during the unprecedented global crisis. Yet, this method was abolished in January 2023 when Republicans regained control of the House, highlighting its controversial nature.

A Judicial Rebuke of Congressional Practices

Judge Hendrix's ruling did not block the budget, which remains effective through September 30, 2023. However, it specifically targeted two budget provisions, including enforcing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act against Texas. This selective enforcement indicates a nuanced approach to the ruling's impact.

State Attorney General Paxton has been a vocal critic of the budget's passage. He accused former Speaker Pelosi of exploiting the proxy voting system under the guise of pandemic precautions to pass significant legislation, an act he deems a gross violation of constitutional norms.

For over 235 years, Congress understood the Constitution’s Quorum Clause to require a majority of members of the House or Senate to be physically present to constitute the necessary quorum to pass legislation. This rule prevents a minority of members from passing legislation that affects the entire nation. But despite the Constitution’s text and centuries of consistent practice, the House in 2020 created a rule that permitted non-present members to be included in the quorum count and vote by proxy.

The Constitutional Debate Surrounds Proxy Voting

Judge Hendrix's opinion underscores a long-standing interpretation of the Quorum Clause, emphasizing the necessity of physical presence for a valid legislative quorum. This interpretation aligns with historical practices and Supreme Court precedents that define the Quorum Clause's scope and application.

Based on the Quorum Clause’s text, original public meaning, and historical practice, the Court concludes that the Quorum Clause bars the creation of a quorum by including non-present members participating by proxy. Supreme Court precedent has long held that the Quorum Clause requires presence, and the Clause’s text distinguishes those absent members from the quorum and provides a mechanism for obtaining a physical quorum by compelling absent members to attend.

This ruling calls into question the legitimacy of laws passed under the proxy voting system and highlights the constitutional implications of adapting legislative procedures to modern challenges.

Conclusion

Judge Hendrix's ruling against the proxy voting system used by the House to pass a $1.7 trillion federal budget represents a significant moment in the ongoing debate over the constitutionality of legislative practices. The decision challenges the methods used by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi's leadership and raises important questions about the balance between innovation in governance and adherence to constitutional principles.

As we reflect on this momentous decision, it is clear that the ruling's implications extend far beyond the specific provisions of the budget, touching on the very core of how our legislative body functions. The debate over proxy voting may have concluded with its abolition in January 2023, but the discussions around the constitutional requirements for legislative action will undoubtedly continue.

About Robert Cunningham

With years of experience at the forefront of political commentary, Robert Cunningham brings a blend of sharp wit and deep insight to his analysis of American principles at the Capitalism Institute.

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