In the lawsuit filed by Texas against Pennsylvania and other states, SCOTUS did request the defendants to respond by December 10, 2020, but they did not say until December 11 that they were not going to hear the case, or give any sort of indication of a ruling on the case until then.

Given that one of the things that the plaintiffs are asking for was a change in what happens on December 14, 2020, when the electoral college meets, was SCOTUS required to give some sort of response before then, even if that response was to say "we aren't going to take the case"? Or could SCOTUS have simply left the case there, untouched by them in any way, until past December 14?

And if they had done so, would they even have had an option to find for the plaintiffs at that point? Since the electoral college would have already met, it would be actually impossible to give Texas what they were asking for wouldn't it?

To sum up the primary question, are there any rules that required SCOTUS to give some sort of response to this lawsuit before December 14?

  • 3
    Generally, if remedy is no longer possible, the lawsuit is dismissed. (Search on law SE for more on this.) Note that the court may come up with an alternative remedy on its own, i.e. it's not bound to exactly what the plaintiffs asked for; see constitution.congress.gov/browse/essay/artIII_S2_C1_1_7_3_2 Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 16:40
  • 1
    @Fizz The Army? I'm mostly joking, but if the Supreme Court throws out the election and installs their choice of President, that would be a Constitutional Crisis, and, like any coup attempt, the outcome would come down to whether the people with the power to enforce an outcome (which is generally the people with the guns) accept or reject it.
    – divibisan
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 17:54
  • 6
    That the Supreme Court just rejected the Texas lawsuit on the basis of lack of standing makes this question moot. Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 23:42
  • 2
    @Fizz This was an original jurisdiction case rather than a certiorari case. A subtle difference but Rule 27(1) does not apply to it.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 0:46
  • 3
    We now know for certain that these states lack standing. cnn.com/2020/12/11/politics/…
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 0:49

1 Answer 1


are there any rules that require SCOTUS to give some sort of response to this lawsuit before December 14?

No. Best practices of the court are usually (but not always) to address petitions before they become moot. But there have been times in the currently election cycle when it had already deliberately not taken action until an election related petition is moot, and it has even done so in a handful of death penalty cases historically.

Also, even if there was, no one could enforce them because there is no court to which anyone can appeal from the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • 1
    Just to be clear: they don't have a deadline to respond and can just ignore or decline to rule on it, but they do still have a deadline to respond if they want to change the outcome, right?
    – divibisan
    Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 20:32
  • @divibisan: given Bush v. Gore, they'd probably loathe to start some process unless the outcome was likely to be a quick one. But I think technically they could start a hearing that 2 years from now decides the election was fraudulent. It would be entirely unprecedented though. Keep in mind that original jurisdiction cases generally get referred to a "special master" court for the actual findings of fact, which is a fairly lengthy process. Wikipedia even gives 1948 as an example when that happened for election fraud claims but not via SCOTUS. Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 20:37
  • And from a much better source: "In New Jersey v. New York, a contentious dispute dating back to the early 1800s, a Special Master officiated over the full course of proceedings for more than two years before formulating a 168- page report, plus appendices, that set forth both his findings of fact and his conclusions of law." Commented Dec 11, 2020 at 20:58
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    @divibisan Correct. At some point the matter becomes non-justiciable. In my opinion, that happens at the latest when Electoral College votes are cast and transmitted (December 14, 2020 this year). The court entertains the possibility that this point could be until Congress counts the Electoral College votes (this year on January 6, 2021) in Bush v. Gore but that portion of the opinion was dicta and is not a binding precedent because that issues wasn't presented in that case.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 12, 2020 at 0:44

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