One of the final questions left unanswered from the 2016 presidential election was resolved today. Thanks to an email hack, then-Democratic National Committee chair and U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was outed as favoring Hillary Clinton over rival Bernie Sanders during the primary. The DNC bylaws say the chair must remain neutral during an election, so a pair of Miami lawyers, Jared and Elizabeth Beck, sued the DNC and Wasserman Schultz in federal court, claiming on behalf of more than 100 people that the congresswoman had "rigged" the primary for Clinton.
Today federal Judge William Zloch dismissed the suit, stating in a judicial order that — even assuming the allegations are true — it's impossible to test any "fraud" claims against the DNC in federal court. Zloch wrote that the Becks and their plaintiffs claimed the DNC leak proved Wasserman Schultz's conduct hurt DNC donors, especially those who gave money to Sanders, and possibly exposed DNC donors to identity theft via the hack.
"The Court must now decide whether Plaintiffs have suffered a concrete injury particularized to them, or one certainly impending, that is traceable to the DNC and its former chair’s conduct — the keys to entering federal court," Zloch wrote. "The Court holds that they have not, which means the truth of their claims cannot be tested in this Court."
Elizabeth Beck did not immediately respond to phone and email messages from New Times.
Many progressives, Sanders acolytes, and campaign-accountability watchdogs have been following the case to see how it played out. But legal analysts had warned for months that the suit's legal claims were extremely shaky and not likely to drum up anything concrete.
Moreover, the ruling is also certain to upset those who had rallied around the lawsuit for other reasons. The Becks had tied the lawsuit into the unsolved murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich, and Jared Beck even appeared on Alex Jones' InfoWars website to discuss the case. The Becks also claim the person who served the DNC with the lawsuit in Washington, D.C., might have been murdered by the Democratic Party, and claimed in court that someone using a voice-changer called them from Wasserman Schultz's Aventura office and threatened them. Beck even at one point asked the court to give his witnesses security protection to prevent them from allegedly being murdered, and repeatedly implied that the evidence in the case could end up outing the alleged person who "leaked" DNC emails to WikiLeaks. (Elizabeth Beck was also briefly in the media during the 2016 election after Donald Trump infamously called her "disgusting" for asking to pump breast milk during a 2011 deposition.)
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But the DNC's response to the suit also rightfully upset mainline progressives: Earlier this year, lawyers for the DNC astoundingly argued that the committee was not bound by law to hold fair elections, a claim that — although potentially true — didn't endear anyone to their cause.
During a hearing for the case in April, DNC lawyer Bruce Spiva argued that the committee's impartiality rule is “a discretionary rule that [the DNC] didn’t need to adopt to begin with" and that any rules the DNC allegedly breaks is a private matter. Though most legal analysts argued this was probably legally sound, it certainly does not dispel rumors that the party is an oligarchic behemoth too far removed from the concerns of ordinary people.
Notably, Judge Zloch didn't rule that it's impossible to sue the DNC for fraud — just that the Becks likely didn't do enough to prove their case. Zloch wrote that the 100-plus plaintiffs claiming to be a single "class" of aggrieved voters did not meet the basic legal guidelines for a class-action suit. Reporter and law student Walker Bragman argued the same point in June.
"This Order therefore concerns only technical matters of pleading and subject-matter jurisdiction," Zloch wrote. "To the extent Plaintiffs wish to air their general grievances with the DNC or its candidate selection process, their redress is through the ballot box, the DNC’s internal workings, or their right of free speech — not through the judiciary. To the extent Plaintiffs have asserted specific causes of action grounded in specific factual allegations, it is this Court’s emphatic duty to measure Plaintiffs’ pleadings against existing legal standards. Having done so, and for the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the named Plaintiffs have not presented a case that is cognizable in federal court."