Supreme Court to review electoral law overhaul in voting card case

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The United States Supreme Court has agreed to use a redistricting case in North Carolina to consider adopting a far-reaching legal doctrine that would transfer more federal electoral power to state legislatures that are now tightly controlled. disproportionate by Republicans.

The court said it would hear an appeal from North Carolina Republicans seeking to reinstate an electoral map they drew in the General Assembly to secure likely victories in 10 of the state’s 14 districts. State courts imposed a different map, saying the GOP lines were so partisan they violated the state constitution.

The appeal asks judges to adopt what scholars call the “independent state legislature” theory, which dispute the U.S. Constitution gives state legislators near-exclusive power to set the rules for federal elections. Republicans have pushed the theory for decades, invoking it in the 2000 presidential election battle and fighting on the counting of postal ballots in 2020.

If passed, the doctrine could prevent state judges from overturning congressional maps and statute-passed laws and empower the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether those state courts have gone too far. This could cast doubt on the use of independent boundary commissions

The theory centers on the Election Clause of the Constitution, which states that the rules for congressional races “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” A similar provision governs the nomination of presidential electors.

“The Constitution provides that state legislatures — not state judges — are primarily responsible for establishing election rules,” including voting cards, Republicans led by North Carolina House Speaker Timothy Moore argued.

Three conservative judges — Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuchsuggested in March, they accepted these arguments. The clause’s language “specifies a particular organ of a state government, and we must take that language seriously,” Alito wrote for the group.

The court will hear arguments and rule during the nine-month term that begins in October.

Change balance

The General Assembly map is contested by voters and self-proclaimed pro-democracy groups. They urged the Supreme Court not to hear the case, saying the GOP’s arguments would fundamentally alter the balance of state and federal powers and potentially overturn dozens of state constitutional provisions across the country.

The organizations claim that the framers of the Constitution understood the “legislature” to incorporate the constraints imposed by state constitutions and courts.

“The US Constitution does not grant impunity to a state legislature for violations of its state constitution simply because the legislation relates to congressional elections,” argued one of the groups, Common Cause.

The North Carolina Supreme Court ruled in February that the map drawn by the General Assembly violated several provisions of the state constitution. The legislature then approved a new map, but a three-judge panel found it to be unconstitutional as well. The panel imposed its own lines for the 2022 election.

The court-ordered map is more in line with the politically divided nature of the state, with seven likely Republican districts, five likely Democratic districts and two competitive seats. States must redraw their districts after the US census every 10 years.

In its March ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to reinstate the Republican-drawn map for the 2022 election. Brett Kavanaugh cast a deciding vote, saying it was too close to the ballot to force North Carolina to change its districts again, but adding that the court should eventually take up the matter.

In his view, Alito faulted the state court for relying on provisions of its constitution that do not explicitly refer to partisan gerrymandering.

Redistricting commissions

Adoption of the doctrine would threaten a 2015 Supreme Court ruling authorizing independent redistricting commissions. A 5-4 court in this case rejected Republican arguments that an Arizona commission, approved by voters in a ballot initiative, violated the Election Clause.

Court conservatives invoked the independent state legislature theory during the litigation surrounding the 2020 presidential election when they criticized decisions by state and federal judges to extend deadlines for receiving ballots by mail.

In Bush v. Gore in 2000, three conservative justices said the Florida Supreme Court usurped the power of state lawmakers by ordering vote recounts that could have swung the presidential election in favor of the Democrats. Al Gore. The Court as a whole did not take this approach, relying instead on a different constitutional provision to to reign for republican George W. Bush and seal his election.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that federal judges can’t throw cards because they’re too partisan. The majority downplayed the impact of its ruling in part by pointing to the possibility that state courts could invoke their own constitutions to strike down partisan gerrymanders. The court has become more conservative since then, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The case is Moore v. Harper, 21-1271.

To contact the reporter on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Elisabeth Wasserman to [email protected]

Peter Jeffrey

© 2022 Bloomberg LP All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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