NewYorkUniversity
LawReview
Current Issue

Volume 83, Number 4

October 2008

The Resolution of Contested Elections in the U.S. House of Representatives: Why State Courts Should Not Help with the House Work

Kristen R. Lisk

The resolution of federal congressional election contests implicates a tension between states’ Article I, Section 4 power to conduct elections for federal office and Congress’s Article I, Section 5 power to decide the elections of its members. The seminal Supreme Court decision on this issue, Roudebush v. Hartke, held that state courts may order administrative recounts in congressional elections because these decisions require state courts only to engage in “nonjudicial functions” and do not impinge on Congress’s ability to make independent and final decisions in these contests. The Roudebush decision has, in some cases, been interpreted expansively, permitting electoral losers to seek substantive post-election remedies (such as new elections) simultaneously in state courts and in Congress. This “Congress-and-courts” approach to deciding congressional election contests is problematic in light of constitutional considerations, federalism concerns, and the values underlying election contest resolution. This Note argues that the Roudebush decision instead should be interpreted narrowly and, therefore, that all congressional election contests should be resolved by Congress exclusively.