Supreme Court Refutes Radical Election Law Theory
On Tuesday, June 27th, the U.S. Supreme Court discredited the North Carolina election law theory that would have granted the state legislature unchecked power in deciding election results.
This decision upholds the ruling that state legislative power is limited by federal and state constitutions, rejecting the highly contested Independent State Legislature theory.
Advanced by Republicans in North Carolina, the Independent State Legislature theory argued that the state legislature had overarching powers that could not be regulated by federal courts, state Supreme Courts or the state constitution.
The Supreme Court ousted this theory by a 6-to-3 vote. Those who opposed the majority opinion included Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch.
IMPLICATIONS OF INDEPENDENT STATE LEGISLATURE THEORY
Acceptance of this theory would have monumentally impacted how elections are held, with broad implications for the Presidential race and larger. Had this theory been applicable to such results as those in the 2020 election, one interpretation theorizes it could have been used to throw out state election results, securing Trump in taking the election despite state voting results indicating otherwise.
Chief Justice John Roberts spoke for the court majority, writing that “state courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause. But federal courts must not abandon their own duty to exercise judicial review.”
This essentially rules that the U.S. Constitution does not shield state legislatures from review by state courts – instead, they reaffirmed that state legislative power is limited by federal and state constitutions in addition to state laws.
Vice President Kamala Harris noted in a released statement that this “decision preserves state courts’ critical role in safeguarding elections and protecting the voice and the will of the American people.”
The Justices upheld the decision made by North Carolina’s Supreme Court, ruling that the highest court in the state did not exceed its power when striking down the congressional districting plan as unduly partisan. The ruling has largely been heralded as a win for democracy.
“This ruling is a resounding rejection of the far-right theory that has been peddled by election deniers and extremists seeking to undermine our democracy,” stated former President Barack Obama.
Others still argue that the danger of the Independent State Legislature theory has not completely passed with the ruling leaving the door open for 2024 election challenges. The Supreme Court declared state courts must still act within “ordinary bounds” in reviewing laws guiding federal elections, not striking down the theory in its entirety.
THE RULING DOES NOT ADDRESS N.C. CONGRESSIONAL MAPS
North Carolina’s Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, also praised the decision yet hinted that this ruling does little to stop the Republican-led legislature from drawing congressional maps that favor them.
“Republican legislators in North Carolina and across the country remain a very real threat to democracy as they continue to pass laws to manipulate elections for partisan gain by interfering with the freedom to vote,” said Cooper.
The Supreme Court’s decision has reaffirmed that state courts retain power over state legislatures – however, the Supreme Court did not rule on whether congressional lines needed to be redrawn in North Carolina. Their decision does nothing to restrict a partisan congressional map that favors any political party.