Washington — The Supreme Court is hearing arguments in a case on WednesdayThat came from North Carolina, which has drawn warnings from experts of the disruptions it could lead to elections across the country and the unchecked power it could give state legislatures over voting rules.
Is knownThe case stems from North Carolina’s GOP-led legislature redrawing the congressional map in the wake of the 2020 census, which the state Supreme Court has rejected as an extreme partisan gerrymander that violates the North Carolina Constitution. Had given.
But at the heart of the controversy lies a little-known doctrine called the “independent state legislature doctrine,” which was largely laid dormant for more than 15 years, but came back into the limelight when it was raised by former President Donald Trump and his allies. went. As part of efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Under the doctrine, which is being urged by North Carolina Republican leaders to adopt the Supreme Court, the constitution gives state legislatures exclusive authority to set federal election rules, without the oversight of state courts to ensure that That those laws follow state constitutions.
The implications of the Supreme Court’s support of the independent state legislature doctrine hovering over arguments come at a time when some Republicans have questioned the integrity of elections and, ahead of the 2020 presidential election, Trump has sought to pressure state lawmakers in a broad campaign. Tried to Challenge its result.
Justice Elena Kagan highlighted the consequences of the court adopting the idea, calling it a “principle with great consequences”.
“I think what might strike a person is that this is a proposal that gets rid of the normal checks and balances that go into making big government decisions in this country,” she said. “You might think it gets rid of all those checks and balances when it’s needed most.”
Kagan predicted that adopting the independent state legislature doctrine would allow legislatures to engage in “gerrymandering of the most extreme forms”, banning voting for state lawmakers and eliminating voter protections, or even Let the legislatures be led to give themselves a role in the certification of elections. ,
A version of the doctrine was invoked in 2000 by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist in his concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore, and more than two decades later, three conservative Supreme Court justices – Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch – expressed support for the idea. Fourth, Justice Brett Kavanaugh urged the court to hear a case raising the issue of whether state courts are powerless to review the actions of state legislatures on issues involving federal election rules and maps.
Moving to oral arguments, however, it is unclear whether a majority of justices are prepared to support the doctrine, and some court watchers doubt the Supreme Court will do so.
Thomas began questioning during arguments, asking David Thompson, who is arguing on behalf of GOP leaders, “Why does this matter here.”
“We don’t normally review Supreme Court interpretations of state constitutions, so what I’m finding is that, for example, if this was a case about a state legislature or a legislative district, it Would be questionable that you’re here under the state constitution,” Thomas said. “How is it different from a purely state matter?”
For North Carolina Republicans, the crux of their argument lies with the text of the Elections Clause of the Constitution, which provides that the manner of federal elections “shall be determined by the Legislature in each State,” and turns on the word “Legislature”. .
“That textual choice has a clear and inescapable consequence: the power to regulate federal elections rests exclusively with state legislatures,” attorneys for North Carolina Republican leaders said in a brief filed with the Supreme Court.
Pointing to history, the text of the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, GOP state lawmakers claimed that the Constitution’s “carefully crafted lines put the regulation of federal elections in the hands of state legislatures, Congress and no one else.” Huh.”
But Chief Justice John Roberts noted to Thompson that North Carolina Republicans acknowledge that state legislative actions covered by the constitution’s election clause are subject to the governor’s veto—the governor is separate from the legislature—and said that those actions by the legislature are subject to veto. Allowing a veto “significantly undermines the argument” that state houses have the power to do what they want.
Voting rights groups, North Carolina voters and state elections officials told the Supreme Court that Founding-era history, post-ratification history, the constitutional text, structure and Supreme Court precedent all cut against their Republican opponents’ position that state legislatures have absolute authority in setting federal election rules.
Lawyers for the nonprofit organization argued, “It is rare for the text and structure of the Constitution to encounter a constitutional doctrine so inconsistent with the original meaning of the Constitution, so abhorred by this Court’s precedent, and so abhorrent to American democracy.” potentially harmful.” Short.
North Carolina voter and voting rights groups, which are urging the court to strike down the independent state legislature doctrine, warned that adopting the GOP-proposed doctrine would “wreak havoc,” because it would require state election officials to simultaneously Two elections would need to be run: one for state elections under the state constitution, and another for federal elections.
While the case arose from the redistricting process in North Carolina, experts caution that the decision, which supports the independent state legislature doctrine, will have broader implications for election rules.
More than 170 state constitutional provisions and 650 state statutory provisions, as well as thousands of administrative rules issued by election officials, would be at risk, said Tom Wolf, deputy director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice. He also predicted that adopting an independent state legislature would invite more partisan gerrymandering, as state courts would be removed from the process of reviewing congressional district maps under state constitutions.
Ben Ginsberg, a longtime Republican election advocate, told reporters at a briefing that he doubted the Supreme Court would fully adopt the independent state legislature doctrine and “let state legislatures go unchecked after 230 years.”
It could instead issue a ruling barring state courts from taking up legislative work when it comes to coming up with remedies for constitutional violations, he said, echoing a suggestion by professors William Baud and Michael McConnell.
The case has drawn friend-of-the-court briefs from a host of lawmakers, voting and civil rights groups, lawmakers, historians and scholars, and opposition to the independent state legislature doctrine is forceful and bipartisan.
In a notable filing, the Conference of Chief Justices, made up of all 50 state chief justices or top court justices, told the Supreme Court that the election clause “does not affect states’ decisions to authorize judicial review of state laws, also included under the State Constitutions.”
Several well-known Republicans, including former federal judge Michael Luttig, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ginsburg, have warned that prohibiting state courts from reviewing election laws under state constitutions could obstruct state legislatures when regulating federal elections. One’s control and balance will be affected. ,
Luttig is a member of the legal team representing non-profit groups and voters involved in litigation before the Supreme Court.
A decision is expected from the court by the end of June.