August 15, 2022

Voting rights experts say the Supreme Court case could cause confusion in the election

A Supreme Court case deciding that Powers state legislatures exercise over Congress and the President Some voting rights experts say the election could have far-reaching implications for American democracy.

The Supreme Court said Thursday it would take up a North Carolina case centered on whether only the state’s Republican-led legislature can set the rules for federal elections.

That argument is often referred to as the independent state legislature doctrine, which states that only state legislators have the power to set the rules for federal elections. Some conservatives have advanced that position in recent years, pointing to a provision in the U.S. Constitution that says the method of federal elections “shall be prescribed in each state by its legislature.”

State courts currently have the power to take action if state legislatures determine that election rules violate state constitutions or other laws. Former President Donald Trump’s allies have made such claims in disputes surrounding the 2020 election, and state and federal courts have largely shot them down. At least four Supreme Court judges have indicated interest.

While the Supreme Court could take broader action in the North Carolina case, experts and voting rights advocates say the limits could be rolled back if a court with a 6-3 conservative majority fully endorses the independent state legislature doctrine. Partisan gerrymandering can cut off voter-enforced changes.

Such a ruling would put state election rules and congressional redistricting plans squarely in the hands of partisan state legislatures, many of which have been repeatedly criticized by state courts and others for enacting aggressively draconian and restrictive voting laws.

“We think it’s a dangerous concept, and if it upheld our election laws it would cause confusion,” Michael Waldman, president of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, told reporters shortly after the court’s decision. “It would be an extraordinary power grab by political actors, and it would make it very difficult or impossible for state courts to uphold voting rights, fight gerrymandering and uphold the rights of our citizens in our elections.”

It’s “one of the most devastating cases, if not the most important, in American democracy,” said Waldman, whose organization advocates for more expansive voting access rules and continues to file lawsuits challenging policies it deems discriminatory or oppressive.

The case in question centers on the argument by North Carolina Republican legislators that they can draw the state’s congressional redistricting maps however they choose. The state Supreme Court said Republicans “systematically” made it harder for Democrats to choose the members they chose and barred the Legislature from using its preferred map.

“They’re basically looking for a blank check to continue partisan gerrymandering,” Tom Wolf, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, told reporters after the ruling.

The Supreme Court refused to block partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina and other states in the 2019 judgmentBut state courts have intervened in recent years, particularly in states where voters have amended state constitutions to limit gerrymandering.

Using ballot initiatives, voters have enacted new rules and procedures for redistricting in states including Michigan, Ohio, New York, Colorado, Missouri, Florida and Utah.

In Michigan, for example, instead of state legislators, an independent commission of citizens now draws the state’s redistricting maps. In New York, courts this year overruled state legislators who sought to bypass a new redistricting commission and enforce gerrymandered maps.

If the Supreme Court were to wholeheartedly endorse the doctrine of independent state legislatures, all of these commissions and procedures could be subject to legal challenges that could strip them of their authority in federal elections.

“Voter-initiated constitutional amendments are one of the few checks on the power of state legislatures to manipulate the process for their own selfish reasons,” said Rick Bildes, a constitutional law expert and professor at New York University School of Law. “If the doctrine concludes that state legislatures are independent of their state constitutions, it removes that check.”

In a 5-4 decision in 2015, the Supreme Court upheld voters’ authority to create a redistricting commission in Arizona.

But election expert Rick Hassan says the makeup of the court has changed dramatically enough to decide to reverse its own precedent — last month in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Like Casey’s overturning of decisions protecting nationwide abortion rights. .

“Majority of judges is majority [of the 2015 Arizona case] are gone Chief Justice [John] Roberts wrote one of his sharpest dissents, for four dissenters,” added Hassan, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Voters in Alaska, California, Washington and Maine have implemented new open primaries or ranked-choice voting systems — or in the case of Alaska — that could hurt just as well.

Experts say that narrower readings of the doctrine may be approved: A ruling can limit election administrators and elected officials from making decisions not clearly spelled out in the law or from taking executive action in emergencies, but preserve the state’s authority. For example, constitutions and courts.

“While I think there’s a risk of an earthquake with a decision, I think we shouldn’t overdo it just yet because there are good legal arguments why the Supreme Court shouldn’t go that way,” Hasan said.

One of those arguments could also be logistical: Any approval of the doctrine would dramatically increase the number of election issues and questions sent to federal courts and appealed to the Supreme Court, experts said.

“It puts them in a position where they have to oversee all of this,” he said. “It takes too much time.”