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Supreme Court to weigh state power over federal elections

Michael Macagnone, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Wednesday in a case about North Carolina’s congressional map that could give state legislatures more sway over federal elections.

Members of the state’s Republican-controlled legislature have argued the state Supreme Court overstepped its bounds earlier this year, when it ruled the newly redrawn congressional districts violated the state constitution through partisan gerrymandering.

The state court approved a new congressional map for the 2022 midterm elections that was less favorable overall for Republican candidates — and the legislators want the U.S. Supreme Court to find that move violated the U.S. Constitution.

But the Tar Heel State voters who first challenged the map, along with dozens of outside experts, contend that siding with the legislators would throw into doubt hundreds of election rules across the nation — as broad as congressional maps or as local as the locations of polling places.

Eliza Sweren-Becker, counsel on voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said the theory presents “real dangers” to how the states conduct elections.

“There’s really no way to soft pedal what North Carolina legislators are asking for in this case,” Sweren-Becker said at a panel discussion. “What they want will mean election chaos.”

 

The Brennan Center filed one of several dozen amicus briefs in the case opposing the North Carolina legislature’s approach, including one from a group of Democratic senators led by Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. The senators argued that legislators should operate with the same judicial branch checks Congress does.

Independent theory

The arguments in the case, Moore v. Harper, revolve around the “independent state legislature” theory, which stems from the Elections Clause in the Constitution. The clause says that state legislatures determine the “The Times, Places and Manner” of federal elections for senators and representatives, unless Congress passes a law to override them.

North Carolina’s legislators argue the Elections Clause means state courts do not have the power to hear a dispute over federal election rules.

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