Supreme Court Refuses To Back Legal Theory That Could Have Upended Elections


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The Supreme Court struck down a legal theory Tuesday that would have given state legislators widespread power to determine election rules, shutting down GOP efforts to use the doctrine as a way to overhaul election rules and impose partisan maps and voting laws.

Key Facts

Moore v. Harper was brought by Republican lawmakers in North Carolina who asked the Supreme Court to endorse the “independent state legislature” theory and give the legislature broad power to control elections, after a congressional map the legislature drew was struck down in court for being too skewed toward the GOP.

The independent state legislature theory is based on the Elections Clause of the Constitution, which states that “the times, places and manner” of holding federal elections “shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”

The North Carolina Supreme Court, which initially struck down the lawmaker-drawn maps and led lawmakers to go to the Supreme Court, reversed its ruling in April after Republicans nabbed a majority on the court, upholding the lawmaker-drawn maps after the Supreme Court had already heard oral arguments in the case.

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that it still had power to hear the case after the North Carolina Supreme Court ruling, and struck down the state legislature theory, ruling “the Elections Clause does not vest exclusive and independent authority in state legislatures to set the rules regarding federal elections.”

State legislatures “remain subject to the ordinary exercise of state judicial review,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court, and legislatures are constrained by both state and federal constitutions, which both give power to the judicial system.

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch dissented, while conservative Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh joined Roberts and the court’s liberal justices in the decision.

Crucial Quote

“State courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause,” Roberts wrote in the court’s opinion, though he said state courts should also “not so exceed the bounds of ordinary judicial review as to unconstitutionally intrude upon the role specifically reserved to state legislatures” under the Elections Clause.

Chief Critic

Thomas said in his dissent that the case should have been thrown out, as the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling means the issue is “indisputably moot, and today’s majority opinion is plainly advisory.” Thomas also agreed with the North Carolina lawmakers’ argument that the legislature theory means that state legislatures’ decisions about elections are based on the federal Constitution, rather than state Constitution, but said that doesn’t necessarily mean that state courts can’t review legislatures’ decisions at all, as the majority opinion suggested. (Gorsuch and Alito both signed on to the first part of Thomas’ opinion saying the case was moot, and only Gorsuch signed on to the second part as well.)

Key Background

The Supreme Court heard Moore v. Harper after initially rebuffing the North Carolina Republicans, as lawmakers asked the court to block the maps that were drawn by court-appointed experts to replace the legislators’ maps. The court ruled in March that it would not stop the replacement maps from going into effect, but then agreed to take up the case for oral arguments in June 2022, making the case one of the most closely watched of the court’s term. The independent state legislature theory gained prominence among Republicans after the 2020 election, when it was repeatedly used as a legal justification for former President Donald Trump and his allies’ efforts to overturn the results. While post-election cases involving the theory were rejected by the Supreme Court, conservative justices on the court later expressed their desire to take the doctrine up. “We will have to resolve this question sooner or later, and the sooner we do so, the better,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a February 2022 dissent when the court initially rejected the North Carolina case, which was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. Thomas also previously supported the theory in a concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore in the 2000 election.

Further Reading

Supreme Court Questions GOP-Led Case That Could Upend U.S. Elections (Forbes)

A North Carolina court overrules itself in a case tied to a disputed election theory (NPR)

What’s Really at Stake in a Politically Charged Supreme Court Case on Elections (ProPublica)

How the ‘independent legislature’ case before SCOTUS could upend elections (Politico)

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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