President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden’s campaigns are assembling armies of powerful lawyers for the possibility that the race for the White House is decided in court.
Dozens of attorneys for the Republicans and the Democrats are already clashing in courts across the U.S. over mail-in ballot deadlines and other issues.
Both sides have built massive legal operations readying for a bitterly disputed race that lands at the Supreme Court.
“We’ve been preparing for this for well over a year,” Republican National Committee chief counsel Justin Riemer told The Associated Press.
“We’ve been working with the campaign on our strategy for recount preparation, for Election Day operations and our litigation strategy.”
On the Democratic side, the Biden campaign’s election team includes hundreds of lawyers led by Walter Dellinger, acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, and Donald Verrilli, a solicitor general under President Barack Obama, among others.
Both sides are informed by the experience of the 2000 election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. Twenty years later, lawyers are preparing for a return trip before the high court.
The president’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett, is expected to be confirmed on Monday, filling the vacant seat left by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ahead of any election disputes.
The race is already thought to be the most litigated in American history, with some 260 lawsuits arising across the country by one tally.
Behind the scenes, Trump and Republicans have been putting together a legal team that includes Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lead attorneys and an experienced litigator before the Supreme Court.
Thousands of volunteer lawyers have signed up to assist with Election Day operations, poll watching and other issues, Riemer said.
A group called Lawyers for Trump, whose advisory board includes Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, is recruiting retired lawyers and law students. Jones Day is among the prominent global law firms expected to play a role.
Riemer said the party isn’t going to call up a random attorney on Election Day and say, “Hey, are you busy? Do you want to litigate a recount?”
That’s close to what happened in 2000.
Barry Richard, who represented Bush in the 2000 Florida recount, got a call the morning after the election asking if he could help and had to scramble to quickly pull a team together, he said.
“Things were much different then. We had no history of candidates lawyering up for presidential elections, so everything hit the fan the night of election night,” Richard said.
Biden has also created a legal war room that his campaign says is focused on combating voter suppression at the polls and ensuring votes are correctly counted.
Another team that’s fighting voter access issues in courts across the country is headed by well-known election lawyer Marc Elias of the law firm Perkins Coie.
“When Democrats want to tilt elections in their favor outside the ballot box, who do they call? Marc Elias and Perkins Coie,” an RNC website says.
Republicans accuse Elias and Democrats of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to do away with safeguards against fraud.
Elias and his team have filed lawsuits seeking to force states to extend mail-in ballot collection deadlines.
In one of those cases, the Supreme Court this week allowed Pennsylvania to count mail-in ballots received up to three days after the Nov. 3 election, rejecting a Republican bid to block the extension.
Elias has long been the public face of Democratic legal contests, serving as general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and John Kerry’s in 2004.
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