On December 7, the Supreme Court will begin oral arguments for Moore v. Harper, a case that could be pivotal for American democracy. President Donald Trump weighed in on the case via his social media platform Truth Social, writing, “So Important! Supreme Court can save our Country.”
The case concerns the elections clause of the Constitution; specifically, whether the Constitution gives special power to state legislatures alone to regulate federal elections without oversight from state courts. Article I, section 4 of the Constitution says that the “times, places and manner of holding elections … shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”
“The Democrats call it the independent state legislature theory like it’s some theory that Republicans made up. It’s in the Constitution, it’s the Elections Clause. Again, Article I, Section 4, Clause 1” – @mrddmiahttps://t.co/u5tnREgGbL
— The Article III Project (A3P) (@Article3Project) November 30, 2022
The matter to be settled is whether it was constitutional for the North Carolina state Supreme Court to dismiss the redistricting maps or whether the Constitution provides for an “independent state legislature” that cannot be constrained by state courts.
On September 27, 2019, North Carolina Democrats filed a lawsuit against the members of the North Carolina State Board of elections to block the state from using congressional maps drawn by Republican state lawmakers. Democrats said the maps were unfairly gerrymandered in favor of Republicans.
On January 11, 2022, the Superior Court rejected the plaintiff’s claims. The Court cited U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Common Cause v. Rucho which says that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts” and do not violate the North Carolina Constitution’s Free Elections, Equal Protection, Freedom of Speech, or Freedom of Assembly Clauses.
The Court also rejected the plaintiffs’ complaint of “racial gerrymandering and vote dilution” under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Court found that the plaintiffs failed to establish that race was the principal consideration in the drawing of the redistricted maps or that there was evidence of racially polarized voting in the specified districts.
The Democrat plaintiffs then appealed the Superior Court’s judgment to the North Carolina Supreme Court on January 12, 2022.
On February 4, 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued an order to strike down the redistricted maps as “unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders” under the state’s Free Elections Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and Freedom of Speech and Assembly Clauses. The Court ordered the General Assembly to submit remedial maps as well as an explanation of the data and methods used to create the plans.
The defendants then filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court on March 17.
If the High Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, it could increase the power and authority of states to regulate federal elections.
Critics worry that the “independent state legislature doctrine” could pave the way for single-party rule. Former Attorney General Eric Holder said that Moore could pose “an existential threat to our democracy.”
Republican lawmakers in the Pennsylvania legislature say the independent state legislature clause just limits the state courts’ discretion in legal violations.