Petitioners filed the petition for review in Commonwealth Court on November 21, 2020, setting forth a facial challenge to those provisions of Act 77 of 2019,
Upon consideration of the parties' filings in Commonwealth Court, we hereby dismiss the petition for review with prejudice based upon Petitioners' failure to file their facial constitutional challenge in a timely manner. Petitioners' challenge violates the doctrine of laches given their complete failure to act with due diligence in commencing their facial constitutional challenge, which was ascertainable upon Act 77's enactment. It is well-established that "[l]aches is an equitable doctrine that bars relief when a complaining party is guilty of want of due diligence in failing to promptly institute an action to the prejudice of another." Stilp v. Hafer, 553 Pa. 128, 718 A.2d 290, 292 (1998).
The want of due diligence demonstrated in this matter is unmistakable. Petitioners filed this facial challenge to the mail-in voting statutory provisions more than one year after the enactment of Act 77. At the time this action was filed on November 21, 2020, millions of Pennsylvania voters had already expressed their will in both the June 2020 Primary Election and the November 2020 General Election and the final ballots in the 2020 General Election were being tallied, with the results becoming
Accordingly, we grant the application for extraordinary jurisdiction, vacate the Commonwealth Court's order preliminarily enjoining the Commonwealth from taking any further action regarding the certification of the results of the 2020 General Election, and dismiss with prejudice Petitioners' petition for review. All other outstanding motions are dismissed as moot.
Justice Wecht files a concurring statement.
Chief Justice Saylor files a concurring and dissenting statement in which Justice Mundy joins.
JUSTICE WECHT, concurring.
I join the Court's order because I wholeheartedly agree that, whatever the merits of Petitioners' claims regarding the constitutionality of Act 77,
As today's order aptly notes, "[l]aches is an equitable doctrine that bars relief when a complaining party is guilty of want of due diligence in failing to promptly institute an action to the prejudice of another." Stilp v. Hafer, 553 Pa. 128, 718 A.2d 290, 292 (1998) (citing Sprague v. Casey, 520 Pa. 38, 550 A.2d 184, 187 (1988)); see also Costello v. United States, 365 U.S. 265, 282, 81 S.Ct. 534, 5 L.Ed.2d 551 (1961); cf. Sprague, 550 A.2d at 188 ("He who seeks equity must do equity."). Whether laches should apply is a fact-specific question to be determined case by case. See Leedom v. Thomas, 473 Pa. 193, 373 A.2d 1329, 1332 (1977). A respondent who resorts to laches must establish two elements: First, the party must demonstrate a lack of diligence on behalf of the claimant. In that regard, "[t]he test is not what the plaintiff knows, but what he might have known by the use of the means of information within his reach with the vigilance the law requires of him." Taylor v. Coggins, 244 Pa. 228, 90 A. 633, 635 (1914). Second, the respondent must show an "injury or material prejudice" resulting from that delay. Gabster v. Mesaros, 422 Pa. 116, 220 A.2d 639, 641 (1966).
Traditionally, "the defendant bears the burden to demonstrate that enforcing the plaintiff's rights would be inequitable under the circumstances." Sernovitz v. Dershaw, 633 Pa. 641, 127 A.3d 783, 791 (2015). In the context of a challenge to the results of an election, however, due consideration must also be accorded to the rights of those voters who cast ballots in good
Respondents' recitations lay bare Petitioners' want of diligence in this case. Petitioners could have brought this action at any time between October 31, 2019, when Governor Wolf signed Act 77 into law, and April 28, 2020, when this Court still retained exclusive jurisdiction over constitutional challenges to it. See Act 77 § 13(2)-(3). The claims then could have been adjudicated finally before the June primary, when no-excuse mail-in voting first took effect under Act 77—and certainly well before the General Election, when millions of Pennsylvania voters requested, received, and returned mail-in ballots for the first time. Petitioners certainly knew all facts relevant to their present claims during that entire period. Indeed, "the procedures used to enact [Act 77] were published in the Legislative Journal and available to the public" since at least October 2019. See Stilp, 718 A.2d at 294. Likewise, "[t]he provisions of the Constitution that the [General Assembly] purportedly violated were also readily available." See id. And yet, Petitioners did nothing.
Because "[a]n election is the embodiment of the popular will, the expression of the sovereign power of the people," In re
Petitioners cannot carry their enormous burden. They have failed to allege that even a single mail-in ballot was fraudulently cast or counted. Notably, these Petitioners sought to intervene in a federal lawsuit in which the campaign of President Donald J. Trump—an ostensible beneficiary of Petitioners' efforts to disenfranchise more than one-third of the Commonwealth's electorate—explicitly disclaimed any allegation of fraud in the conduct of Pennsylvania's General Election. See Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. v. Secretary Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, No. 20-3371, 830 Fed.Appx. 377, 381-82 (3d Cir. Nov. 27, 2020) ("[A]s [Trump Presidential Campaign] lawyer Rudolph Giuliani stressed, the Campaign `doesn't plead fraud. ... [T]his is not a fraud case.'" (quoting Mot. To Dismiss Hr'g Tr. 118:19-20, 137:18)). The absence of fraud allegations from this matter—not to mention actual evidence of fraud—alone is fatal to Petitioners' claims.
More importantly, though, there is no basis in law by which the courts may grant Petitioners' request to ignore the results of an election and recommit the choice to the General Assembly to substitute its preferred slate of electors for the one chosen by a majority of Pennsylvania's voters. The United States Constitution's Presidential Electors Clause commands that "[e]ach State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress." U.S. CONST. art. II, § 1, cl. 2. While the method of appointment varies somewhat by State,
Unchanged since its enactment in 1937, Article XV of the Election Code
25 P.S. § 3191.
Id. § 3192 (emphasis added). Lastly, the Code outlines the electors' power to replace a member of their delegation due to that member's death or "fail[ure] to attend at the seat of government at the time appointed by law," id. § 3193, and also establishes their entitlement to a per diem to compensate for travel expenses, id. § 3194 (providing for "the sum of three dollars for every day spent in traveling to, remaining at, and returning from the place of meeting aforesaid, and ... mileage at the rate of three cents per mile to and from his home").
Conspicuously absent from the Election Code are any mechanisms by which to circumvent these procedures so as to permit the General Assembly to substitute its preferred slate of electors for that "elected by the qualified electors of the Commonwealth." Id. § 3191. Thus, any effort to alter that "method of appointment," McPherson, 146 U.S. at 25, 13 S.Ct. 3, at this late stage would require the adoption of new law in accordance with constitutional mandates, including presentment of the legislation to the governor to sign or veto. See PA. CONST. art. III, § 9; Wolf v. Scarnati, ___ Pa. ___, 233 A.3d 679, 687 (2020); cf. Smiley v. Holm, 285 U.S. 355, 367-68, 52 S.Ct. 397, 76 L.Ed. 795 (1932) (holding "that the exercise of the authority" to regulate federal elections conferred upon state legislatures by the federal Constitution "must be in accordance with the method which the state has prescribed for legislative enactments," including observance of "the veto power"); Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Indep. Redistricting Comm'n, 576 U.S. 787, 807-08, 135 S.Ct. 2652, 192 L.Ed.2d 704 (2015).
In any event, even if the Legislature were inclined to intervene, Petitioners' efforts
Having delayed this suit until two elections were conducted under Act 77's new, no-excuse mail-in voting system, Petitioners —several of whom participated in primary elections under this system without complaint—play a dangerous game at the expense of every Pennsylvania voter. Petitioners waived their opportunity to challenge Act 77 before the election, choosing instead to "lay by and gamble upon receiving a favorable decision of the electorate." Toney v. White, 488 F.2d 310, 314 (5th Cir. 1973) (en banc). Unsatisfied with the results of that wager, they would now flip over the table, scattering to the shadows the votes of millions of Pennsylvanians. It is not our role to lend legitimacy to such transparent and untimely efforts to subvert the will of Pennsylvania voters.
CHIEF JUSTICE SAYLOR, concurring and dissenting.
I agree with the majority that injunctive relief restraining certification of the votes of Pennsylvanians cast in the 2020 general election should not have been granted and is unavailable in the present circumstances. As the majority relates, there has been too much good-faith reliance, by the electorate, on the no-excuse mail-in voting regime created by Act 77 to warrant judicial consideration of the extreme and untenable remedies proposed by Appellees.
That said, there is a component of Appellees' original complaint, filed in the Commonwealth Court, which seeks declaratory relief and is unresolved by the above remedial assessment. Additionally, I find that the relevant substantive challenge raised by Appellees presents troublesome questions about the constitutional validity of the new mail-in voting scheme.
One of Appellants' main responses is that the citizenry, and perhaps future generations, are forever bound by the Legislature's decision to insert, into Act 77 itself, a 180-day time restriction curtailing challenges to the substantive import of the enactment. See Act of Oct. 31, 2019, P.L. 552, No. 77, § 13(3). However, I find this assessment to be substantially problematic.
To the degree that Appellees wish to pursue this challenge in the ordinary course, upon the realization that their proposed injunctive remedies will be considered no further, I would allow them to do so in the Commonwealth Court upon a remand. In this regard, relative to the declaratory component of the request for relief, I also would not invoke the doctrine of laches, since the present challenge arises in the first election cycle in which no-excuse mail-in voting has been utilized. Moreover, "laches and prejudice can never
Consistent with my position throughout this election cycle, I believe that, to the extent possible, we should apply more ordinary and orderly methods of judicial consideration, since far too much nuance is lost by treating every election matter as exigent and worthy of this Court's immediate resolution. In this respect, I would honor the Commonwealth Court's traditional role as the court of original and original appellate jurisdiction for most election matters. Finally, I am decidedly against yet another award of extraordinary jurisdiction at the Secretary's behest.
Justice Mundy joins this Concurring and Dissenting Statement.