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Supreme Court Considers Massive Election Authority Change



The Supreme Court on Wednesday began debating whether state lawmakers have the power to set federal voting rules without state court oversight, which would be a fundamental change in the way elections are conducted.

If the justices side with Republican legislative leaders in North Carolina, state lawmakers across the country could have sole authority to structure federal elections, subject only to congressional intervention, even if their actions are successful. to extreme partisan voting cards for congressional seats — and violating voter protections. enshrined in state constitutions. The case could have a major impact on the 2024 elections.

Republican leaders in North Carolina want the Supreme Court to restore a redistricting map that was established by the GOP-led legislature but dismissed as a violation of the state constitution by the state Supreme Court. Republican leaders in the state are calling on judges to embrace the “independent state legislature theory,” which could end state courts’ oversight of the enforcement of the state’s constitution. state and jeopardize citizen-supported initiatives to eliminate partisan politics from electoral mapping and rules. .

Proponents of the theory claim that the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures “the federal function to regulate congressional elections” and that states may “not limit the discretion of the legislature.” Because there is a similar reference to the “legislature” in an accompanying provision of the Constitution regarding presidential elections, the stakes are even higher.

Attorney David H. Thompson, representing Republicans in North Carolina, pointed to founding-era history and the text of the Constitution to explain why state courts cannot limit the power of lawmakers to establish federal election rules, an argument he says is fully consistent with previous rulings. .

But the Supreme Court never said that constitutional recognition that the legislature leads the process should supersede the normal mechanisms of government, in which legislators are constrained by state constitutions and overseen by state courts. The court’s three liberal justices expressed skepticism about the lack of restraints on lawmakers.

Judge Elena Kagan suggested lawmakers’ theory could have “big consequences” that “throw away normal checks and balances.” The theory, she said, could allow state legislatures to engage in extreme gerrymandering and interfere with election certification.

“It seems completely inconsistent with the way our system of government works and is supposed to work,” Kagan said.

In response, Thompson said, federal voting protections would still apply and serve as a safety net.

“There is control, there is balance and there is legal control of federal law and political control of going to Congress,” he said.

Supreme Court Considers Fundamental Change to Election Authority

Opponents, including civil rights organizations, Democratic-led states and former Republican judges and election lawyers, say North Carolina’s approach would jeopardize hundreds of constitutional provisions and rulings by state courts. In the past, state courts have played an influential role in congressional redistricting battles after the 2020 census. Judges have reined in Republican gerrymanders in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, for example, and thrown out drawn maps by the Democratic-led legislatures in New York and Maryland.

Attorney Neal Katyal, representing the challengers, said lawmakers’ theory contradicts the historical record. He warned of an “explosion ray” if the justices accepted the argument that would create chaos for voters with “one set of rules for federal elections and one set of rules for state elections.”

In North Carolina, a purple state, analysts said the map created by Republican lawmakers after the 2020 census would have given the GOP an advantage in 10 of 14 congressional districts. Democratic justices of the state’s elected Supreme Court said the redistricting maps had a partisan slant “unexplained by the political geography of North Carolina.”

Under a new map imposed just for the 2022 election, the congressional delegation is split 7-7.

Republican legislative leaders in the state asked the Supreme Court to intervene and said state courts lacked the power to second guess the legislature. In March, the High Court allowed North Carolina’s ruling to run for the fall pageants. But three of the court’s conservatives — Justices Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas — said they were skeptical of the state courts’ role in revising the rules for federal elections.

Alito pressed the challengers’ attorney about whether a state Supreme Court of elected justices was less political than asking lawmakers to draw ballot cards.

“Does it promote democracy to shift political controversy” from legislatures to elected judges, Alito asked.

Yes, Katyal replied, pointing to other checks on the courts, including Congress.

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, who previously said the court should resolve the issue, noted that after the disputed 2000 presidential vote in Bush versus Gore, Then-Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said the constitutionally granted power to legislatures to oversee elections limited the powers of state judges to intervene. But Kavanaugh suggested on Wednesday that the lawmakers’ argument goes too far.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who could be critical of the outcome of the case, also seemed skeptical at times of lawmakers’ theory.

The case is Moore vs. Harper



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