Supreme Court on Tuesday Rejected a legal doctrine It would have radically reshaped how federal elections are conducted by giving state legislatures largely unchecked power to set the rules for federal elections and draw congressional maps marred by partisan gerrymandering.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had a 6 to 3 vote to write the majority opinion. The Constitution, he said, “does not exempt state legislatures from the ordinary restraints imposed by state law.”
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch objected.
This case is about the doctrine of “Independent State Legislature”. It is based on a reading of the Constitution Election DivisionIt states, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by its legislature.”
Proponents of the stronger form of the doctrine say that no other organ of state government — not courts, not governors, not election administrators, not independent commissions — can supersede the legislature’s actions in federal elections.
Chief Justice Roberts rejected that position. “The Electoral Clause does not insulate state legislatures from the usual practice of state judicial review,” he wrote.
The ruling was an outright rejection of a doctrine that an unusually diverse group of lawyers, judges and scholars across the ideological spectrum considered radical and dangerous.
But election law experts cautioned that Tuesday’s decision upends the power of federal courts and allows them to second-guess at least some state court rulings based on state law.
As Chief Justice Roberts stated, “state courts have no independent control” and are subject to federal courts’ oversight in cases involving federal elections. But he said very little about the nature and extent of that oversight.
“The questions presented in this section are complex and context-specific,” the chief justice wrote. “We hold only that state courts may not overstep the ordinary limits of judicial review, such that they transfer to themselves the power vested in state legislatures to regulate federal elections.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett M. Kavanagh, Amy Coney Barrett and Katanji Brown Jackson joined the Chief Justice’s majority opinion.
The case has no practical impact on the dispute involving North Carolina’s congressional voting map. A recent ruling by the state Supreme Court authorized the Republican-controlled Legislature to draw the necessary maps.
The case, Moore v. Harper, no. 21-1271, about a voting map drawn by the North Carolina Legislature after the 2020 census, was initially rejected by the state’s Supreme Court as a partisan gerrymander. Experts said the map could yield a Congressional delegation of 10 Republicans and four Democrats.
Initially the state court rejected the argument Adopting the doctrine of independent state legislatures, asserting that it is not competent to review the acts of state legislatures, “is repugnant to the sovereignty of the states, the authority of state constitutions, and the independence of state courts, and is absurd and dangerous in consequence.”
Last year, Republicans seeking to restore the legislative map asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. Urgent application The state court was incapacitated.
The justices rejected the request for immediate intervention, and the election in November was held under a map drawn by a state court-appointed expert. The resulting 14-member congressional delegation is evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, roughly reflecting the state’s partisan divide.
Republican lawmakers appealed to the US Supreme Court. When the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in December, the justices appeared divided, if not divided, on the limits of the doctrine.
The makeup of the North Carolina Supreme Court flipped after the election in November, favoring Republicans by a 5-to-2 margin. A dissenting justice called the new majority a “shameful manipulation of the fundamental principles of our democracy and the rule of law.” Reverse trendThat said, the Legislature is free to draw gerrymandered voting districts as it sees fit.
Many observers expected the US Supreme Court to dismiss the case in light of that development. But Chief Justice Roberts concluded that the case involved a direct controversy and the Supreme Court retained its jurisdiction.
In dissent, Justice Thomas, writing for three members of the court, said the case was “irrefutable.” He also held that the majority’s reasoning on the merits is unpersuasive.
“Ultimately,” he wrote, “I fear that this framework will have the effect of investing so much of state constitutional law with the nature of a federal question that it is not amenable to meaningful or principled adjudication by federal courts.”
Justice Thomas said he feared the ruling would invite last-minute litigation over election disputes.
“Amid the rapidly developing, politically charged controversies that arise out of the blue, and the winners of federal elections, it may be decided by a federal court’s swift decision that a state court has overstepped the ‘limits of ordinary judicial review’ in construing a state constitution,” he wrote. “I would be reluctant before too long to involve the federal judiciary down this uncertain path.”
In his opinion Tuesday, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that several of the court’s precedents are inconsistent with a broad version of the doctrine. “Each rejected the argument that the Elections Clause gives state legislatures exclusive and independent authority when setting rules governing federal elections,” he wrote.
He added: “In construing state law in this area, state courts may not overstep the bounds of ordinary judicial review to unconstitutionally intrude upon the role specifically assigned to state legislatures by the federal constitution”.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Kavanagh underscored this point. “A federal court’s review of a state court’s interpretation of state law in a federal election case must be deference, but deference is not abdication,” he wrote.
Richard L., a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Hassan said the ruling amounted to a compromise. “It gives the U.S. Supreme Court the final say on the meaning of state law in the midst of an election dispute,” he wrote. A blog post. “It’s a bad, but not bad outcome.”
When the Court closed the doors of federal courts to discriminatory gerrymandering claims Rucho v. Common cause In 2019, Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the court’s five most conservative members that state courts can take such cases — including against the backdrop of congressional redistricting.
As if anticipating and rejecting the doctrine of free state legislatures, he wrote, “State statutes and provisions in state constitutions can provide standards and guidance for state courts to apply.”
In 2015, in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the court ruled that Arizona’s voters had the right to make the process of drawing congressional district lines nonpartisan by creating an independent redistricting commission, though referred to as the “legislature.” Election Division.
“Nothing in that clause suggests, nor has this Court ever held, that a state legislature may prescribe regulations regarding the time, place and manner of holding federal elections in violation of the provisions of the state constitution,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. 2020, written in a majority opinion of 5 to 4 decision.
Chief Justice Roberts dissented in that ruling. On Tuesday, he wrote that the framers of the Constitution recognized that state legislatures are “bound by the provisions of the documents that give them life.”
Citing the records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, he added, “Legislatures, the framers recognized, ‘are mere creatures of state constitutions, and cannot be greater than their framers.'”