Thursday, April 30, 2020

Final 2020 SCOTUS in the Classroom Case



We're excited to announce our final SCOTUS in the Classroom case for this term, Chiafalo v. Washington. This case challenges a Washington State "faithless elector" fine. The cases the Supreme Court will hear this May will be the first cases in SCOTUS history to have oral arguments broadcast to the public in real-time over livestream. The case will be argued May 13 at 10 AM (Eastern).

Street Law will post case materials as they become available on the SCOTUS in the Classroom program page. Teachers and students are encouraged to hold virtual moot courts (or mini-moot courts) of the case the same week that the Supreme Court hears arguments, giving students the opportunity to follow discussion and analysis in the news and of course, for the first time ever, tune in live. You can find instructions and handouts for conducting a moot court at SCOTUS in the Classroom. You can find ideas for adapting SCOTUS in the Classroom materials to distance learning on Materials for At-Home Learning.

Case Background

 In summer 2016, Peter Chiafalo, Levi Guerra, Esther John (the petitioners) and nine others were nominated as electors for the Washington Democratic Party for the 2016 presidential election. According to Washington state law, all electors must sign a pledge that they will vote for the nominee of their party. All three petitioners signed the pledge and were aware that electors who broke that pledge would be fined up to $1,000

On November 8, 2016, the Democratic candidates for president and vice president, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, won the election in the state of Washington. Usually, because of Washington state’s “winner-takes-all” system, the Clinton-Kaine ticket would receive all 12 of Washington’s electoral votes. However, when the electors assembled to vote, Chiafalo, Guerra, and John voted for Colin Powell for president and other people (not Tim Kaine) for vice president. They did so in an attempt to disrupt the election of Donald Trump by encouraging electors across the nation to vote for alternative candidates. They believed that this would deny either candidate a majority of electoral votes, and the election would be sent to the House of Representatives where states would have a chance to select a president other than Trump. Several other electors joined them, but they were not successful in changing the results of the election.

The Washington Secretary of State fined each of the petitioners $1,000 for failing to vote for the nominee of the Democratic party. This is the first time in U.S. history that a state has fined presidential electors for their failure to vote as state law required. The petitioners appealed their fines. The Washington Supreme Court upheld the issuance of the fines. The petitioners asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the case, and it agreed.


Learn more about Street Law's SCOTUS in the Classroom resources and using our resources for At-home learning.

SCOTUS in the Classroom is made possible by the support of the Supreme Court Historical Society

Image: Closeup of a roll of “I voted” stickers.