The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a legal theory that would have radically reshaped the way federal elections are conducted by giving state legislatures largely unchecked power to set all sorts of rules for federal elections and drawing maps of Congress distorted by partisan manipulations.
The vote was 6-3, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing the majority opinion. The Constitution, he said, “does not exempt state legislatures from the ordinary restrictions imposed by state law.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented.
The case concerned the theory of the “independent state legislature”. The doctrine is based on a reading of the Constitution Elections Clausewhich says: “The times, places and manner of holding the elections of senators and representatives, will be prescribed in each state by the legislature of the same.”
Proponents of the strongest form of the theory say this means that no other state government body—not courts, not governors, not election administrators, not independent commissions—can alter a legislature’s actions in elections. feds.
The case, Moore v. Harper, No. 21-1271, was referring to a voting map produced by the North Carolina Legislature that was initially rejected as partisan rigging by the state Supreme Court. Experts said the map is likely to show a congressional delegation made up of 10 Republicans and four Democrats.
state court rejected the argument that it had no right to review the actions of the state Legislature, saying that adopting the independent state legislature theory would be “repugnant to the sovereignty of states, the authority of state constitutions, and the independence of state courts, and would produce results absurd and dangerous. consequences.”
Republicans seeking to restore the legislative map last year petitioned the US Supreme Court to intervene, arguing in a emergency app that the state court had been powerless to act.
The judges rejected the request for immediate intervention and the election in November was held under a map drawn up by experts appointed by a state court. That resulted in a 14-member congressional delegation that was split evenly between Republicans and Democrats, roughly mirroring the state’s partisan divisions.
Republican lawmakers appealed to the US Supreme Court, saying the state court had no right to question the Legislature. When the US Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in December, the justices seemed divided, if not fractured, on the limits of the theory.
The composition of the North Carolina Supreme Court changed after the November election, favoring Republicans by a 5-2 margin. In what one dissenting justice called a “shameful manipulation of the fundamental principles of our democracy and the rule of law”, the new majority reversed coursesaying that the Legislature was free to draw rigged electoral districts as it saw fit.
Many observers expected the United States Supreme Court to throw out the case in light of that development. But Chief Justice Roberts concluded that the Supreme Court retained jurisdiction over the case.
When the court closed the doors of the federal courts to allegations of partisan gerrymandering in Rucho vs. common cause In 2019, Chief Justice Roberts, writing on behalf of the court’s five most conservative members, said state courts could continue to hear such cases, including in the context of redistricting.
“Our conclusion does not condone excessive partisan manipulation,” he wrote. “Our conclusion also does not condemn complaints about redistricting to ring out in a vacuum. States, for example, are actively tackling the problem on several fronts.” Seeming to anticipate and reject the theory of the independent state legislature, he wrote that “provisions in state statutes and state constitutions can provide standards and guidance for state courts to apply.”
In 2015, in the Arizona State Legislature v. the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the court ruled that Arizona voters had the right to try to make the process of drawing congressional district lines less partisan. by creating an independent redistricting commission despite the reference to “legislature” in the Elections Clause.
“Nothing in that clause directs, nor has this court ever held, that a state legislature may prescribe regulations on the time, place and manner of conducting federal elections in defiance of the provisions of the state constitution,” Judge Ruth said. Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020, wrote in the majority opinion of the 5-4 decision.