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Supreme Court rejects 'independent state legislature' theory

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against North Carolina Republicans who claimed the legislature has the final say over administering elections.
Supreme Court rejects 'independent state legislature' theory
Posted at 10:06 AM, Jun 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-27 12:07:08-04

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Republican state legislators in North Carolina who claimed that the Constitution gave them the power to govern elections and draw congressional districts without scrutiny from state courts. 

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the dissent in the 6-3 decision. 

The U.S. Constitution states, "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of [choosing] Senators." 

The case was brought about by North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore after legislators were asked to redraw congressional districts in North Carolina following the decennial census. Opponents of the maps filed lawsuits claiming the districts were illegally gerrymandered. 

SEE MORE: Louisiana may get new congressional map after Supreme Court decision

The North Carolina Supreme Court originally ruled that the maps were illegally drawn and ordered new maps to be drawn. But the court took the unusual step to reevaluate the case earlier this year, despite having it been already heard by the Supreme Court. The court reconsidered the case after two new Republican members joined the state Supreme Court earlier this year, replacing two Democrats. 

"State courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause. But federal courts must not abandon their own duty to exercise judicial review. In interpreting state law in this area, state courts may not so exceed the bounds of ordinary judicial review as to unconstitutionally intrude upon the role specifically reserved to state legislatures by Article I, Section 4, of the Federal Constitution," Roberts wrote.

Thomas wrote because the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed its prior decision, the case is now moot. 

"This is a straightforward case of mootness. The federal defense no longer makes any difference to this case — whether we agree with the defense, disagree with it, or say nothing at all, the final judgment in this litigation will be exactly the same," he said. 

But the ruling could have implications in a number of states moving forward, especially after the next census comes out in 2030.


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