On Wednesday, America’s highest judicial body head arguments over whether Congress can set federal voting rules without oversight from state courts.
According to the Washington Examiner, questions posed by the Supreme Court’s conservative justices suggest that they are “unconventionally split” in a case that could have major ramifications.
Known as Moore v. Harper, the case features arguments from North Carolina’s Republican lawmakers that the state Supreme Court cannot strike down congressional maps which have been drawn by the legislature.
Case hinges on “independent state legislature theory”
The controversy arose following a four to three ruling this past February by North Carolina’s Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court that a GOP-drawn map amounted to unconstitutional gerrymandering.
“Based on the trial court’s factual findings, we conclude that the congressional and legislative maps enacted … are unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt under the free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause, and the freedom of assembly clause of the North Carolina Constitution,” the majority said in its decision.
In response, North Carolina House of Representatives Speaker Tim Moore advanced the “independent state legislature theory.”
This position holds that under the United States Constitution, state legislatures are granted “the federal function of regulating congressional elections” and thus states are prohibited from limiting the legislature’s discretion.
Divisions among the justices
The Examiner noted that there appeared to be divisions among the Court’s six Republican appointees in their response.
Whereas Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Clarence Thomas seemed receptive to Moore’s arguments, Chief Justice John Roberts along with Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh sounded more skeptical.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the impact of this decision on democracy,” Alito was quoted as saying. “Do you think that it furthers democracy to transfer the political controversy about districting from the legislature to elected supreme courts where the candidates are permitted by state law to campaign on the issue of districts?”
Legal expert uncertain on how Court will rule
University of Iowa College of Law professor Derek Muller told the Examiner that it remains “unclear” as to which way the Court will rule.
But Muller noted, “If the legislature wins, it will be a narrow set of circumstances when state courts cannot independently check a state legislature in federal elections.”
Meanwhile, Cato Institute adjunct scholar Andrew Grossman underlined the case’s significance, saying “it concerns whether election rules will be made by democratically elected legislatures or by judges.”
The Examiner pointed out that ruling in the Republicans’ favor could result in different rules for federal and state elections on the same ballot.