Supreme Court grapples with doctrine that would change federal election rules

washington Supreme Court on Wednesday blockbuster redistribution case North Carolina concerned whether state legislatures have the exclusive power to set federal election rules without review by state courts, a controversy that prompted stark warnings of disruptions should such an idea lead to elections across the country. And the unchecked power it can give to state MPs. ,

Is known moore vs harperThe 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. State Republican leaders asked the US Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to restore voting lines that benefit GOP candidates in most of the state’s 14 congressional districts.

At the heart of the controversy lies a little-known doctrine called the “independent state legislature doctrine”, which had been largely dormant for more than 15 years, but which resurfaced when it was raised by former President Donald Trump and his allies. had come into limelight. Part of efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Under the theory, pushed by North Carolina Republican leaders, the constitution grants state legislatures almost-exclusive authority to set federal election rules, without oversight from state courts to ensure that those laws are enforced by state constitutions. comply with the prescribed constraints.

The case hovers over the Supreme Court’s endorsement of the principle of independent state legislature, at a time when some Republicans have questioned the integrity of elections and, following the 2020 presidential election, Trump has targeted state lawmakers in a broad campaign. Tried to apply pressure. Challenge its result.

In oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Elena Kagan said the adoption of the idea would resonate widely, calling it a “principle with huge 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 imagine that this gets rid of all those checks and balances right when they are most needed.”

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. , without review by state courts.

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.

While most justices appeared wary of fully endorsing the idea that the Constitution grants state legislatures nearly total authority in federal elections, some conservative members of the court struggled to find a clear standard for determining whether When has a state court departed from jurisprudence? reviewed and overturned policy making, thus requiring intervention from the federal courts.

Neil Katyal, who argued on behalf of North Carolina voters and voting rights groups, said the standard for federal judicial review of state court decisions interpreting state constitutions is “sky-high” and “stratospheric”. .

Noting that in some states, members of state high courts themselves participate in partisan elections, Alito asked Katyal whether it “advances democracy to move political controversy” from the legislature to the state supreme court. on redistributing the elected judges of

Katyal replied that yes, it does, because there are other checks available on state courts, such as Congress.

Alito, along with Thomas and Gorsuch, appeared to echo prior sentiments about the power vested in state legislatures under the Elections Clause of the Constitution. But Chief Justice John Roberts, Kavanaugh and Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked both sides tough questions during nearly three hours of arguments.

For North Carolina Republicans, the core of their argument lies with the text of the Elections Clause, which provides that the times, places, and manner of federal elections “shall be determined by the Legislature in each State,” and the words “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.”

In questions from attorney David Thompson, who argued for the North Carolina Republican, Roberts said he accepts that state legislative action covered by the Election Clause is subject to a governor’s veto—separate from the governor’s legislature—and that the veto is valid. The actions taken by the said legislature to allow it “significantly undermine the argument” that the state houses have the power to do what they want.

On the other hand, 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 precedents all cut against the Republican position. states that state legislatures have absolute, unfettered 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.

The Justice Department sided with voting rights groups in the case, and Solicitor General Elizabeth Prologer warned during arguments that adopting the GOP-proposed doctrine “would unleash chaos on the ground.” Prologger said that state election officials would have to run two elections simultaneously – one for state elections under state law, and another for federal elections – and that the Supreme Court itself would be flooded with 11th-hour requests for intervention. .

Katyal repeatedly tried to outline the effects of rulings in favor of Republican lawmakers, saying such a decision to remove state courts from the process would “open Pandora’s box” and warn that “the scope of the explosion According to his theory begins with the extra large size.”

Experts have also said that the decision endorsing the independent state legislature doctrine will have wide-ranging 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.

The case received 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.”

A decision is expected from the court by the end of June.

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