With the midterm elections — and 2024 presidential rumors — serving as a backdrop, the Supreme Court will start a new term next month and take up a voting rights case that could fundamentally change the landscape of election law by turning a dispute over gerrymandering and congressional districts into one that could hypothetically change the way American elections are decided.
Voting rights groups fear that the case could lead to the ability of rogue state legislators to act unchecked when it comes to rules concerning federal elections such as the drawing of district lines, early voting rules and voter ID requirements. And a group of chief judges from around the country are worried as well.
“This case could unsettle almost every aspect of federal election administration,” Allison Riggs, chief counsel for voting rights for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said in an interview.
Began as a gerrymandering dispute
On the surface, Moore v. Harper presents a redistricting dispute out of North Carolina involving a lower court decision that invalidated the state’s congressional map. The court struck the map — calling it an illegal partisan gerrymander — and replaced it with a court-drawn map that was more favorable to Democrats.
Under the theory, state legislatures should be able to set rules in federal elections without being held in check by state constitutions either through interpretation by state courts or by the functioning of commissions created under state constitutional reforms.
Traditionally, legislatures have set ground rules for conducting an election, but have not acted alone or with the final word. Processes set in place have been subject to intervention by election administrators and state courts.
But the strictest reading of the independent state legislature theory says that state courts, when it comes to federal elections, must stay out.
The majority of the North Carolina state Supreme Court, in ruling against the lawmakers, said that legislators do not have unlimited power to draw electoral maps. The state court acknowledged that redistricting is primarily delegated to the legislature but said it must be performed in “conformity with the State Constitution.”
The Republican lawmakers appealed to the US Supreme Court, arguing in court papers that the “text of the Constitution directly answers the question presented in this case.” The Elections Clause provides “unambiguous language” concerning the…