The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a legal doctrine supported by many conservatives on Tuesday that would have given state legislators wide latitude in determining election laws and redistricting districts.
North Carolina’s highest court had already rejected the state’s congressional district plan due to its political prejudice against Democratic voters, which gave rise to the issue at hand. In a 6-3 ruling in which Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority, the court rejected the “independent state legislature” thesis, which argued that state courts and constitutions should be exempt from federal election regulation.
With this decision, state courts will be able to continue protecting democratic principles in election disputes in the United States.
The “Independent State Legislature” Doctrine
Whether or whether the “independent state legislature” theory should be accepted was central to the issue. Conservatives have long championed a once-fringe notion that sought to eliminate the impact of state courts and constitutions on federal elections.
Legal professors, Democrats, and voting rights activists all voiced concern that this approach may undermine democratic norms. Supporters of the hypothesis pointed to the section in the United States Constitution that says each state’s legislature gets to decide the “times, places, and manner” of federal elections.
However, Chief Justice Roberts rejected the doctrine’s applicability by emphasizing that the Elections Clause did not protect state legislators from state court scrutiny.
Supreme Court Upholds State Court Review
By reaching this conclusion, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the importance of state constitutions in regulating federal elections and protected the jurisdiction of state courts to consider certain sorts of matters involving elections.
The three liberal justices on the Court joined Chief Justice Roberts and the two conservative justices, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, in the majority. Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch dissented, saying the case should have been thrown out.
Impact on Gerrymandering and Voting Restrictions
Significant ramifications for political gerrymandering and voting limitations follow from the rejection of the “independent state legislature” theory. Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing district lines to give one political party an advantage in elections.
Fears were voiced by those opposed to the concept that its adoption would pave the way for more restrictive voting laws and more drastic political gerrymandering by state legislatures. It’s important to remember that in a case from 2019, the Supreme Court forbade federal courts from preventing political gerrymandering.
Political Landscape and Future Implications
Some Republican lawmakers adopted the theory, and they implemented legislation and limitations in a number of states restricting the right to vote in the name of preventing voter fraud. Ex-President Trump’s unfounded assertions of rampant vote fraud in the 2020 election prompted this stepped-up attempt.
While the decision is a win for the right to vote, Chief Justice Roberts was careful to remind state courts that they should not usurp the power given to them by the state legislatures under the U.S. Constitution.
In cases when state courts reject legislative maps and assume responsibility for redistricting, this judgment leaves the door open for future challenges and arguments.