5. "Blue Sky Rebellion" Chapters 6-7

Chapter 6. Legal Challenges

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein

Alex boarded the first morning train from Truckee. He stopped at home to change and pick up some papers, then took the Capitol Corridor train to San Francisco where the Huang legal team was holed up in a conference room on one of the top floors of the Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco and the headquarters of one of the major law firms supporting Huang.

A dozen or so people, mostly attorneys, sat around the long black walnut table in a large conference room with a commanding view of the Financial District and the Bay on the window side and a buffet table loaded with pizzas, salads, sodas and coffee on the interior side. At the electronic “white” board in back, a young woman was drawing a diagram of various litigation scenarios and possible outcomes. If you wandered around to the other side of the high rise, you could see a stunning view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Alex entered the room and walked around the table shaking everyone’s hands. He stopped to chat with Arlen Sanders, the former US Attorney in San Francisco and the lead attorney for the Huang litigation team. Political experts universally regarded Arlen as the foremost elections law and constitutional expert in the country, as well as Huang’s likely choice for Attorney General. He was currently a senior partner in the San Francisco office of an international law firm headquartered in New York. Alex sat down in the chair at the head of the table next to Arlen. “So talk to me.”

Arlen explained the preliminary work and tentative conclusions that the group had developed. They needed to reverse the vote in one of four closely contested states to win - Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio or Florida. They recommended a lawsuit to contest the Stone victories in all four states, but agreed that Florida presented the case with the most likelihood of success. In the other states, a legal victory would not ensure winning the state’s electoral votes because recounts, remands and other legal maneuvers were still necessary.

In Florida on the other hand, if even a fraction of the 100,000 disqualified ballots were counted, Huang would overcome her 3,000-vote deficit to Stone to win Florida, win the electoral college outright, and avoid a tie-breaking vote in the Republican-led House.

One of the younger attorneys, Doug Baldwin, turned to face Alex. “Mr. Mayor, if I may summarize. After most of the Florida ballots were counted, Huang was up by 100,000 votes. Then all of a sudden, Florida Secretary of State Lucy Gore, a Republican loyalist, disqualified more than 100,000 ballots in Dade and Palm Counties, which just so happen to be heavily Democratic precincts. Without presenting a scintilla of evidence, she claimed that  undocumented voters cast the disqualified ballots. We believe that her actions were so outrageous that the court will have no recourse but to reverse the Florida vote.”

Alex listened impassively and nodded. He looked over to Arlen Sanders. “That’s probably what Al Gore’s lawyers told him in 2000.”


Alex returned to Sacramento on Monday and jumped back into a series of meetings and calls. First, he met with his own City Hall staff to go over the events and priorities for the week. Next, he reviewed the City’s priorities for state and federal legislation with the City’s Legislative Director. Then he met with disgruntled teacher union representatives who wanted him to intervene and help broker a deal to resolve a bitter salary dispute with the recalcitrant School Board. An hour later, he was meeting with several business leaders responsible for putting together a consortium to buy the Oakland A’s baseball team and move them to a new baseball-only stadium in Sacramento’s Downtown Railyards, next to the Sacramento Republic’s soccer stadium and a half mile from the Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA Champion Sacramento Kings. Finally, he met with the City Manager and various staffers to discuss the City’s new homeless policy, a new park plan, a revised bike master plan and a possible merger of City and County government.

Alex loved being Mayor. The only drawback was that it was a full-time job, meaning that he could no longer serve as in-house counsel for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a job that he loved. SMUD was one of the largest and most progressive electric utilities in the nation, making its mark as the first utility in the world to close down an operating nuclear power plant by popular vote in 1989. The former Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in the rolling foothills of southeastern Sacramento County was now home to hundreds of acres of solar photovoltaic panels, vineyards and a large nature preserve. SMUD never looked back as it went on to become the first major utility in the nation to convert its entire generation portfolio to renewables from hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass resources. It no longer used any fossil fuels or nuclear power.

From the time Alex was a Forestry major at Yale and studied environmental and energy law at the University of California, Davis, he dreamed of helping the world move to a carbon-free future. SMUD delivered on that dream, at least in this corner of the world.

Alex was ready for lunch, but with a busy afternoon ahead he asked his executive assistant Anne to order sushi delivered to the office. He blocked out the afternoon for calls with Huang’s legal team as they dug in for a bitter fight. Given the magnitude and urgency of the issues involved, they anticipated a flurry of legal moves in the second and third weeks of November in an effort to resolve the litigation ahead of the December 12th deadline for the Electoral College vote.

The Huang Campaign teamed with the Democratic Party to sue in state court to count the disqualified ballots in Florida. As expected, the Republicans countered with a request to remove the case to Federal District Court on the grounds that the determination of whether a voter should be disqualified for not being a US citizen involved a federal law question suitable for federal court.

The Huang team defeated the removal attempt and kept the case in state court where the District Court of Appeal in Miami proceeded to rule in favor of Senator Huang, determining that the disqualified voters were, in fact, citizens entitled to vote and ordering the Florida Secretary of State to count the ballots.

Stone’s legal team immediately appealed. The Florida Supreme Court granted a temporary stay of the lower court order, but scheduled oral argument on November 22, the Monday of Thanksgiving week and the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Just as the junior attorney Doug Baldwin had predicted, the case against the Florida Secretary of State was a slam dunk. The Florida Supreme Court wasted no time before issuing its ruling 48 hours later on the day before Thanksgiving. It upheld the lower court order and directed Florida Secretary of State Gore to count the disqualified ballots in Dade and Palm Counties and revise the Presidential vote tally accordingly. The Florida Supreme Court consisted of three Republicans and four Democrats, but their decision was unanimous.

The Stone team promptly appealed the Florida Supreme Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, requesting a mandate to stay the state court decision pending the Supreme Court’s review. On December 1, the Supreme Court issued an order granting the writ of certiorari to hear the case, but declining to stay the state court decision. So Florida continued to count the ballots that Gore had initially disqualified.

On December 6, Gore finished counting the 100,000 ballots in question and scheduled a press conference in Tallahassee to announce that the new vote counts would reverse the outcome of the Florida election. However, before leaving her office, she got a call from the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Lance Seamus. “Lucy, you’ve got to delay your announcement. Stone just submitted another stay request to the Supreme Court, and this time they’re going to grant it.”

“Sure, consider it done” she replied.

A few hours later, just as Seamus had predicted, the US Supreme Court issued an order staying the Florida court decision pending oral argument before the Supreme Court on Friday, December 10.

Alex flew to Washington the day before the Supreme Court hearing. He hailed a cab at Reagan National Airport for the ride to the Hart Senate Office Building to meet with Senator Huang. He went through security then took the elevator to the fourth floor to the Senator’s suite. Her assistant escorted Alex into the Senator’s office. Alex sat down at a chair facing Pamela, while Arlen Sanders paced the floor, biting his nails and looking out the window at the Supreme Court building across the street. Arlen was the obvious choice to present oral argument for the Huang team. He had a sterling record before the Supreme Court, never losing a case in nine tries. 

Sanders turned to face Alex and Pamela with a stern expression on his face. “I’m worried. Even though our case is clear on its merits, the Supreme Court has become increasingly politicized over the years. I’m particularly concerned that Justice Dimitrov, the most partisan of the nine justices, has declined to recuse himself from the case despite having a long-time business and personal relationship with Stone. And need I mention that in the last Supreme Court decision in a similar case, the Court ruled by a 5-4 margin to terminate the Florida vote count with the Republican ahead?” Of course, Sanders was referring to the infamous case of Bush v Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000).

Still, defending the disqualification of “hanging chad” ballots in the 2000 case was much easier for the Republican team than defending the wholesale disqualification of seemingly valid ballots in this case. With no proof of voter fraud, Florida’s Secretary of State had relied on unverified claims by Republican boosters that the immigrant and refugee voters in question were not valid citizens because they obtained their citizenship before “extreme vetting” had been instituted. Theoretically, they argued, many of these immigrants might not have survived the more rigorous vetting process now in effect. Worse yet they claimed, some of these voters might even be terrorists.

On a sunny but frigid Friday morning, the Huang team walked across the street from the Hart garage, then walked up the wide stairs in front of the stately Supreme Court building. They went through security, entering the Supreme Court’s Chambers an hour ahead of the scheduled hearing. No other cases were scheduled, so the main event was scheduled to start promptly at ten o’clock.

At ten o’clock, the audience rose as all nine Justices entered the Chambers and took their seats. The Chief Justice called the hearing to order. The Clerk called the one and only case: Stone v. Huang. Stone’s two attorneys sat at the appellants’ table on the right, while Huang’s two attorneys sat at the respondents’ table on the left. The Chief Justice asked if the attorneys were ready to proceed with oral argument.

Stone’s lead attorney stood and said, “Yes, Your Honor. Joseph Patton and Walter Gray appearing on behalf of the appellants.”

Next, Sanders rose and said, “Yes, Your Honor. Arlen Sanders and Doug Baldwin appearing on behalf of the respondent.”

Finally, Solicitor General Robert Thorpe, stood and said, “Yes, Your Honor. Robert Thorpe, Solicitor General, appearing on behalf of the United States of America.” The Solicitor General had filed a brief in support of Huang, defending the recount against Stone.

Oral argument started off well enough, despite Sanders’s concerns. Stone’s attorney badly fumbled his response to hostile questions from four of the Justices and wasted most of his allotted time reiterating the conclusions from his brief. Next, Sanders delivered a crisp, compelling argument and answered all of the Justices’ questions nimbly and authoritatively.

However, midway through the Solicitor General’s argument, Justice Dimitrov asked the Solicitor General a series of hypotheticals designed to bolster Stone’s case. The Solicitor General suddenly grew flustered, stuttering before acknowledging that without the extreme vetting now required, it was impossible to know with certainty whether any of the disqualified voters had lied or otherwise violated federal law to obtain citizenship.

Alex fidgeted in his seat in the first row behind the wooden barrier separating the counsel tables from the audience. At Huang’s counsel table, Baldwin grimaced while Sanders tried to pass notes discreetly to the Solicitor General to offer suggestions for answering the tough questions. But the Solicitor General never looked over and just kept digging himself a deeper hole. Fortunately, the Chief Justice allowed five minutes of rebuttal time for each side, so Sanders managed to repair some of the worst damage.

The following Monday, December 13, dawned dark and gloomy in Washington. Things got even darker when the Supreme Court announced a 5-4 decision. the majority opinion written by Justice Dimitrov, handing the election to Stone. In deciding to overturn the Florida courts, the Supreme Court quoted its decision in Bush v. Gore:

“This inquiry does not imply a disrespect for state courts but . . . [t]o attach definitive weight to the pronouncement of a state court, when the very question at issue is whether the court has actually departed from the statutory meaning, would be to abdicate our responsibility to enforce the explicit requirements of Article II.”

The Court went on to rely on Bush v. Gore for the proposition that this was a special case requiring the federal courts to intervene and interpret federal constitutional law related to immigration and citizenship:

"In most cases, comity and respect for federalism compel us to defer to the decisions of state courts on issues of state law. That practice reflects our understanding that the decisions of state courts are definitive pronouncements of the will of the States as sovereigns. Of course, in ordinary cases, the distribution of powers among the branches of a State's government raises no questions of federal constitutional law, subject to the requirement that the government be republican in character. See U. S. Const., Art. IV; § 4. But there are a few exceptional cases in which the Constitution imposes a duty or confers a power on a particular branch of a State's government. This is one of them.”

Incredibly, yet another Democratic candidate won the popular vote, only to lose in the Electoral College. Moreover, each time the losing candidate won the popular vote by an increasingly large margin. In fact, only a handful of times in American history did the winning candidate have fewer popular votes than the losing candidate. But Huang’s commanding popular vote victory in both percentage (53 to 42) and margin (15 million) made this election result a complete travesty in the eyes of a majority of Americans. The final outcome astounded even many Stone voters.

In addition, this was the second time that the Supreme Court, on a strict party line vote, cut short a Florida vote count, handing the victory to the Republican. The Supreme Court decision was certain to provoke civil unrest in the country.

Alex and the rest of Senator Huang’s legal team left dejected, but determined to fight what was happening to their country.

Chapter 7. Autocrat in the House

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." George Orwell

The Supreme Court decision cleared the last hurdle for the Electoral College to formalize its vote for Stone. Despite the determined efforts of Huang’s supporters to sway them, all of the Electoral College voters stayed “faithful” to the popular vote in each state, resulting in a 269-269 tie. The stage was now set for the Republican-led House of Representatives to elect Stone in January.

On January 3, the newly elected Congress proceeded to their first order of business — the formal counting of Electoral College ballots. The President of the Senate, Michael McDonald (R-Tenn) unsealed the ballots and confirmed the tie vote that everyone who didn’t live under a rock assumed. Speaker of the House Clayton Russell (R-Louisiana) then invoked, for the first time in two centuries, the constitutional provision calling for a state-by-state vote of the House. Each state’s congressional delegation received one vote each. Stone won the vote on the first ballot, 26 to 24.

Although the House vote was expected since Republicans controlled the delegations in 26 states and the House overall, it provoked outrage across the country. Not surprisingly, the backlash was most severe in blue states, particularly California, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, whose voters felt cheated that their large populations were reduced to a single vote in the House, the same as Delaware or Rhode Island with a tiny fraction of their population. But even in some of the battleground states that voted for Stone, especially Florida where Stone narrowly edged Huang, most voters believed that the election was rigged. Rumors persisted that Stone leveraged his ties to Russia to manipulate the election to his advantage.

Stone’s ties to Russia went back a long ways. His father founded a small wildcat oil exploration company in Oklahoma. Once he was old enough, Ronald worked the oil fields just like any hired hand. But his father recognized his middle son’s keen intellect and business acumen and encouraged him to go to college. Stone’s grades were middling but he took advantage of his time at Harvard undergrad to make lifelong friends and future business associates, not the least of whom was Thomas Swanson, the future CEO of Penron. After graduating from Harvard, Stone went to Penn’s Wharton School of Business where he didn’t set the academic world on fire, but excelled at practical applications of the economic and business principles taught there.

When he returned to Oklahoma, he went back to work for his father, this time in the front office. When his father took ill a few years later, Ronald took over the business, growing it from one of the smallest oil companies in Oklahoma to one of the larger independent oil companies in the nation. Meanwhile, his old college buddy Swanson was rising quickly through the ranks at Penron. Little by little Stone took over a number of other small independent oil exploration companies. One of those had a permit to drill in Russia.

Stone thought that the Russian oil permit might turn into a gold mine, so he flew to Russia  and quickly got to know the folks at Rosnost, Russia’s oil giant. In particular, Stone became acquainted with one of Rosnost’s rising stars, Valery Kuzmanov. Both Stone and Kuzmanov had outsized personalities and shared ambitions to make it to the top. After a series of business deals worked well for both sides, they came to trust each other and looked for more opportunities to partner. Soon Kuzmanov and Rosnost helped Stone grow Stone Oil & Gas into a behemoth.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Rosnost ran into severe economic problems from another American-led boycott. Stone used his independent contacts and ties in other countries to do end runs around the boycott. Some of these work arounds were of questionable legality, but in the end, both sides prospered. Later, Rosnost helped Stone manage a hostile takeover of Penron by sabotaging Penron’s oil permits in Russia and other former Soviet states and then awarding the permits to Stone instead. None other than Penron CFO Thomas Swanson gave Stone the inside information needed to pull off the Penron coup. When the smoke cleared, Swanson was CEO and Stone the controlling shareholder and Chairman of the Board of Penron.

After joining forces with Stone to take over Penron, Swanson helped Kuzmanov, who by then had become CEO of Rosnost. Swanson arranged for Penron to provide the needed capital for Kuzmanov to pull off the merger of Rosnost and Gazneft, leading to the formation of Gaznost, the Russian state-owned monopoly that became the world’s second largest oil and gas company after Penron. Because of Kuzmanov’s role in elevating Stone and Swanson at Penron, Penron and Gaznost effectively operated as sister companies under the Stone-Swanson-Kuzmanov triad. And given Kuzmanov’s close ties to Russian Premier Nikolai Putsov, the combined companies were, for all intents and purposes, an arm of the Russian government.

It was one thing for Stone to take over Penron with Russian help, but winning the Presidency was an order of magnitude more consequential and a whole lot messier. After Stone’s Penron coup, Penron’s stock increased in value so shareholders could hardly complain. In contrast, aside from Stone’s hard-core supporters, Americans did nothing but complain about his questionable victory for President.

Stone ignored the public anger and went on a victory tour. He spoke at rallies in a number of the white rural and suburban areas that formed his base. Instead of trying to moderate his views and unify the country, he doubled down on his campaign rhetoric as if he had just pulled off a landslide victory.

Stone claimed that if it weren’t for voter fraud and millions of illegal immigrant votes, he would have won the popular vote. He presented no evidence to support his claim. In fact, virtually every state and local election official in the nation, except Florida’s, concluded that their respective states had conducted their elections properly and found no substantial evidence of voter fraud.

As he had done throughout his ugly campaign, Stone also continued to advocate war crimes, endorse torture, lie out loud on national television and to the press, brag about his sexual prowess and his “amazing” ability to get away with anything he wanted, including putting his opponents in prison and having sex with anyone he chose. He also refused to pay taxes or make his tax returns public in violation of a new law requiring public disclosure of presidential candidates’ tax returns. He relentlessly ridiculed disabled people, Muslims, Mexicans, and anyone else with whom he disagreed, and flaunted his support of white supremacists.

Stone promised that once he was sworn in as President, he would deport 15 million Hispanics, mainly from Mexico and Guatemala, including green card holders and American citizens born in the United States to undocumented parents, unless they could prove that they had never lied about their immigration status or violated any law in the U.S. Among those deported would be green card holders who were granted amnesty by previous administrations. Stone often pontificated that “extreme vetting” was necessary to weed out the “bad guys” after major terrorist attacks racked the country. The campaign promise that he especially loved to make over and over, usually to standing ovations from his audience, was to build a huge wall at the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Many politicians had promised a border wall before, but none followed through as President. Stone told his fans that he knew “how to get ‘er done”.

Stone’s second favorite campaign promise was to create a Muslim registry and surveillance system targeting Muslim Americans.

In short, Stone ran as an autocrat for president — and won.