Arizona Supreme Court sides with Republicans in dispute over 2020 election, blasts lower court's decision as threat to 'rule of law'

 May 6, 2024

The Arizona Supreme Court has wiped $27,000 in legal fees that the state's Republicans were ordered to pay for challenging the 2020 election results.

According to the unanimous opinion, Republicans were wrongly penalized for raising legitimate legal questions.

"Even if done inadvertently and with the best of intentions, such sanctions present a real and present danger to the rule of law,” Justice John Lopez wrote.

2020 election ruling reversed

The case stems from the Arizona GOP's challenge of Maricopa County's mandatory hand count. The GOP argued the hand count was conducted improperly.

A trial court dismissed the complaint in March 2021 and awarded $18,000 in legal fees to the office of then-Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, after finding the lawsuit was both groundless and "in bad faith."

The court reasoned that the challenge was politically motivated and meant to sow doubt about the election results. Hobbs would later make "election denialism" the centerpiece of her successful run for governor.

An appeals court upheld the trial court's ruling in 2023 and added another $9,000 in legal sanctions. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the challenge "was not groundless and arguably was made in good faith."

Allowed to ask questions

The top court did not overturn the dismissal of the case but expressed concern about the sanctions imposed.

The Supreme Court cited the trial court's finding that Republicans demonstrated "bad faith" by simply "raising questions" about election procedure.

The lower court had characterized the lawsuit as “a threat to the rule of law posing as an expression of concern," but the Supreme Court argued the shoe was on the other foot: the lower court attempted to suppress legitimate legal controversy "under the guise of defending the rule of law."

"During times of social and political contention and strife, we must be mindful that our courts provide a means of resolving such conflicts when issues are legitimately presented," the court wrote.

"By sanctioning parties and their lawyers for bringing debatable, long-shot complaints, courts risk chilling legal advocacy and citizens raising 'questions' under the guise of defending the rule of law," the Supreme Court wrote.

Disagreement over results

The Arizona GOP said the ruling "reaffirms the fundamental legal principle that raising questions about the interpretation and application of election laws is a legitimate use of the judicial system, not a groundless or bad faith action."

Maricopa County became a flashpoint for continued disagreement about the election results after Joe Biden became the first Democratic president in decades to win Arizona.

The state is again expected to be a pivotal battleground in 2024.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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