OCTOBER TERM, 2019

(Slip Opinion)

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Syllabus
NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is
being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued.
The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been
prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader.
See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U. S. 321, 337.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Syllabus

CHIAFALO ET AL. v. WASHINGTON
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF WASHINGTON
No. 19–465.

Argued May 13, 2020—Decided July 6, 2020

When Americans cast ballots for presidential candidates, their votes actually go toward selecting members of the Electoral College, whom
each State appoints based on the popular returns. The States have
devised mechanisms to ensure that the electors they appoint vote for
the presidential candidate their citizens have preferred. With two partial exceptions, every State appoints a slate of electors selected by the
political party whose candidate has won the State’s popular vote. Most
States also compel electors to pledge to support the nominee of that
party. Relevant here, 15 States back up their pledge laws with some
kind of sanction. Almost all of these States immediately remove a socalled “faithless elector” from his position, substituting an alternate
whose vote the State reports instead. A few States impose a monetary
fine on any elector who flouts his pledge.
Three Washington electors, Peter Chiafalo, Levi Guerra, and Esther
John (the Electors), violated their pledges to support Hillary Clinton
in the 2016 presidential election. In response, the State fined the Electors $1,000 apiece for breaking their pledges to support the same candidate its voters had. The Electors challenged their fines in state
court, arguing that the Constitution gives members of the Electoral
College the right to vote however they please. The Washington Superior Court rejected that claim, and the State Supreme Court affirmed,
relying on Ray v. Blair, 343 U. S. 214. In Ray, this Court upheld a
pledge requirement—though one without a penalty to back it up. Ray
held that pledges were consistent with the Constitution’s text and our
Nation’s history, id., at 225–230; but it reserved the question whether
a State can enforce that requirement through legal sanctions.
Held: A State may enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee—and the state voters’ choice—for President. Pp. 8–18.
(a) Article II, §1 gives the States the authority to appoint electors “in

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