Supreme Court may rule narrowly for GOP in election law case


Supreme Court conservatives hinted Wednesday that they might rule — but only narrowly — before North Carolina Republican state legislators, who claim exclusive authority to draft election maps without scrutiny by state courts.

The judges heard arguments in the gerrymandering case, which could dramatically change the way congressional and presidential elections run at the state level, potentially giving partisan politicians virtually unlimited power.

But the case may yield a more modest ruling that states state legislators may create rules for elections, including drawing voting district maps, but with at least some oversight by state courts.

The clash between partisan lawmakers and state judges in North Carolina has drawn extraordinary attention because so much of the electoral law has come under attack recently. Just two years ago, then-President Trump and some of his allies tried to reverse his defeat by having Republican state lawmakers declare him the winner.

In their appeal to the conservative-dominated Supreme Court, GOP lawmakers cite the so-called independent state legislature theory. The doctrine means that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislators — not governors or state judges — full and exclusive authority to draw maps of congressional districts, even if it results in a skewed advantage for their party.

The lawmakers note that the Constitution says that the rules for electing members of Congress “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”

However, for most of U.S. history, state judges, governors, and other officials have also played a role in such cases. State Supreme Courts routinely oversee voting disputes for federal, state, and local elections.

Moreover, the US Supreme Court has never endorsed such a theory.

Lawyers representing Democratic Party leaders and voters in North Carolina called the theory radical, saying it would overturn basic principles of checks and balances.

During Wednesday’s nearly three-hour discussion, there was no clear consensus on how the court would decide. The six conservative justices suggested they tended to limit the power of state judges rather than limit the discretion of partisan legislators.

But it also turned out that they were not willing to go as far as the Republicans would like.

In their remarks, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to seek a compromise that would allow state courts to review election plans but require judges to defer as much as possible to lawmakers.

Under such an approach, a state court could still block an election card, but it would be returned to the legislature for amendment. Courts or others should not create or alter maps.

This would mean that a state’s Supreme Court retains its power to enforce the state’s constitution, but the legislature can make the final decision on election cards.

Kavanaugh pointed out that former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist advanced the independent legislature theory during the infamous Florida recount after the 2000 presidential election that resulted in the decision between Bush and Gore. Rehnquist said Florida state judges appeared to ignore or revise aspects of the state’s election law that would violate the U.S. Constitution.

But Kavanaugh, addressing GOP attorney David Thompson on Wednesday, said: “Your position appears to extend beyond Chief Justice Rehnquist. … He seemed to recognize that state courts would play a role in the interpretation of state laws.

Roberts said he was wary of unchecked legislature, but told the Republican attorney he was interested in whether “there’s a narrower, alternative ground to decide the case in your favor that would allow some substantive state restrictions to be enforced” by judges .

During Wednesday’s speech, three prominent Democratic lawyers warned the judges against endorsing the theory that all power over federal elections rests with the state legislature.

Attorneys Neal Katyal and Donald Verrilli Jr., who both served in the Obama administration, and current Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar said adopting the GOP’s proposed theory could overturn two centuries of precedent and create chaos in the resolve common disputes over voting rules.

It could even lead to two sets of election rules in a state, they said — one for federal elections and another for state and local elections.

Another provision of the constitution cited by proponents of the independent legislature theory applies to presidential elections. It says that “each state shall nominate” the electors who vote for president “in such manner as the legislature may therefrom direct.”

That provision is not at issue in the North Carolina case. By law, all states elect their voters by popular vote.

But some electoral law experts fear a Supreme Court ruling that puts more power in the hands of state legislators could encourage some of them to claim the power to nominate alternate voters to support the presidential nominee. backing the legislatures rather than the one elected by the voters of the state. Such a move was advocated by some Trump supporters after he lost the 2020 election.

North Carolina has seen a series of fierce partisan battles over redistribution over the past decade.

Last year, the state’s GOP-controlled legislature drew an election card that would have left Republicans virtually certain to win 10 of the 14 seats in the U.S. House. The government watchdog group Common Cause and others have sued, and the state Supreme Court, which had a majority of Democratic appointees, struck down the card because it gave Republicans an “extreme partisan advantage.”

State judges then selected a panel of election experts, who drew a new map that better reflected the state’s political makeup.

In February, North Carolina Republicans, led by state House Speaker Timothy Moore, sent an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court asking the justices to block the state judges’ ruling and reinstate the GOP-friendly card. A majority of justices refused to intervene, while conservatives Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch disagreed.

Judge Kavanaugh said at the time it was late to change the districts again for the midterm elections, but he expressed interest in considering the underlying legal issue.

In June, the court voted to dismiss Moore v. Harper to decide whether state judges can strike down election cards prepared by lawmakers.

When North Carolina voters went to the polls last month, they elected seven Republicans and seven Democrats to the U.S. House.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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