PHILADELPHIA — With a withering opinion, a federal judge on Saturday threw out President Donald Trump's last remaining legal challenge seeking to invalidate Pennsylvania's election results, all but ensuring the state will finalize its vote tally as planned this week.

U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann described the case put forth by the president's campaign as a tortured "Frankenstein's Monster" and the remedy they sought — effectively disenfranchising nearly 7 million voters in the state — as "unhinged."

"One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption," he wrote in his 37-page opinion. "Instead, this court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations ... unsupported by the evidence."

He continued: "This cannot justify the disenfranchisement of a single voter, let alone all the voters in (the) sixth most populated state. Our people, laws and institutions demand more."

Still, campaign lawyers tried to spin the ruling into a victory.

"Today's decision ... helps us in our strategy to get expeditiously to the U.S. Supreme Court," Trump legal advisers Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis said in a jointly issued statement. They said they intended to seek an expedited hearing before the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat whose office had defended state elections administrators in the case, simply tweeted: "When can I say I told you so?"

"Suit dismissed," he added. "Laws matter."

The case's dismissal leaves only one other lawsuit that Trump's campaign is still actively pursuing in the state — a fight before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court over roughly 8,300 challenged mail ballots from Philadelphia.

Trump's lawyers also urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a dispute over another 10,000 mail votes across the state. But the justices have given no indication that they intend to do so.

But even if Trump were to prevail in both cases, neither suit is capable of eroding President-elect Joe Biden's lead in the state, which stood at more than 81,000 votes Saturday night.

And with a Monday deadline for counties to certify their final tallies, Gov. Tom Wolf and the state's top election official, Kathy Boockvar, appeared set to move forward with cementing the results that will deliver the president-elect Pennsylvania's 20 Electoral College votes.

In his ruling, Brann excoriated the Trump campaign's unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud and the lawyer who presented them in the court: Giuliani.

The former mayor of New York, who is leading Trump's national effort to challenge the election's outcome, personally took charge of the case at a hearing in Williamsport last week and delivered a fevered, fumbling performance built on baffling conspiracy theories of a cabal of Democratic mayors across the country working to rig the election for Biden that had little to do with what campaign lawyers had argued in their filings.

He promised evidence. He didn't deliver.

He promised affidavits detailing fraud. There were none.

And he vowed statistical analysis that would prove Trump had won the state in a landslide.

Nothing of the sort was ever filed with the court.

Instead, the case was resolved on a single point: Whether Boockvar had acted lawfully when she issued guidance suggesting counties alert voters whose mail ballots were in danger of being disqualified because of errors like missing signatures or secrecy envelopes.

Those warnings allowed voters in counties who had followed her advice to either correct their mistakes or cast a provisional ballot at the polls on Election Day.

Trump's campaign, however, had argued that because several GOP-leaning counties hadn't acted on Boockvar's guidance, believing it to have no basis in state law, the Republican vote had ultimately been diluted.

Brann, an Obama-appointee and former chairman of the Bradford County Republican Committee, disagreed.

He ultimately found that Boockvar's advisories were lawful, none of the plaintiffs had standing to sue, and that if the individual voters from Republican strongholds who signed on as plaintiffs were going to sue anyone it should be election administrators from their counties who chose not to allow them to correct mistakes on their ballots.

"This is simply not how the Constitution works," he wrote.

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(c)2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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