Federal judge rules proxy votes can't count toward House quorum

A federal judge in Texas ruled Tuesday that proxy votes made in the House during the COVID-19 pandemic should not have counted toward the body’s quorum, calling into question the validity of votes during that period and opening the door to potential legal challenges to some pandemic-era legislation.

The rule, implemented by House Democrats amid the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, allowed the House to pass legislation without a physical quorum of members present, counting toward a quorum those who attended and voted virtually or by proxy.

Judge James Wesley Hendrix determined that the House’s proxy voting rule violated the Quorum Clause of the Constitution. 

“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,” Hendrix wrote.

The State of Texas challenged the rule last February, specifically demanding that two pieces of legislation be halted: the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and appropriations for the Department of Homeland Security’s Alternatives to Detention Case Management Pilot Program.

The PWFA is a workers’ rights bill passed in May 2021 that provides additional federal protections to pregnant workers. Hendrix determined Texas was able to prove injury regarding the PWFA, but not the Case Management Pilot Program. 

Hendrix implemented an injunction against the PWFA’s implementation in Texas because it passed without a legal quorum. The case only halts the law in Texas but opens the door to legal challenges to other COVID-era legislation nationwide.

Proxy voting was stricken from House rules when the GOP took over the body in 2023. More than half of the House membership voted virtually for the final proxy vote, a $1.7 trillion omnibus bill in late December 2022.

That final vote, just before Christmas Eve and during harsh weather, saw an exceptionally high mark of proxy votes, raising eyebrows among some members about others taking advantage of the outgoing rule.

“Something tells me much more that this has to do with people wanting to be home for Christmas,” Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) told The Hill at the time.

The House Parliamentarian determined before the vote that rules allowed members to vote remotely and that their presence counted toward a quorum. Hendrix’s Tuesday decision goes against that opinion.

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