Supreme Court leans toward limiting judicial scrutiny of U.S. elections

  • The doctrine of “independent state assembly” is a discussion of justice
  • Liberal judges decry the threat to “checks and balances.”
  • The conservative-dominated court will make a decision by the end of June

WASHINGTON, Dec 7 (Reuters) – The conservative majority of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday appeared willing to limit the judiciary’s power to enforce voting policies made by state politicians but may not go as far as Republican lawmakers. of North Carolina want in a case drawn by liberal justices. as a threat to American democratic norms.

The court made arguments in a case that state lawmakers used to try to persuade justices to adopt a controversial legal theory that holds sway in conservative legal circles that would prevent state courts from upholding the legality of actions by state lawmakers that affect federal elections. review the regulations.

Republican lawmakers are challenging a North Carolina high court decision to throw out the map they drew for the state’s 14 U.S. House of Representatives districts as unconstitutionally biased against Democratic voters. Another state court later replaced that map with one created by a bipartisan group of experts.

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority, and its most conservative justices including Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch were willing to accept the “independent state legislature” doctrine proposed by Republican lawmakers.

While conservative justices have generally asked questions that show skepticism toward state court actions, some have pointed out that Republicans’ argument that state constitutions cannot limit the power of legislatures to set rules for congressional and presidential elections may be going too far.

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Under the once-marginal legal theory they now advance, the lawmakers argue that the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures — and not other bodies such as state courts — authority over election rules and electoral district maps.

The court’s liberal justices suggested the doctrine could free legislatures to enact all kinds of voting restrictions. Advocates who oppose it also say it could lead to confusion by allowing voting rules that differ between state and federal races.

“This is a proposal that gets rid of the usual checks and balances on how big government decisions are made in this country,” said liberal Justice Elena Kagan. “And you can imagine that it gets rid of all those checks and balances just when they’re most needed.”

America is divided on voting rights. Republican-led state legislatures have introduced new voting restrictions following false claims by former Republican President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voter fraud.

The court’s final decision, due at the end of June, could be applied to the 2024 elections, including the US presidential race.

During the three-hour debate, the justices debated whether to allow federal courts to review the actions of state courts to prevent judges from acting like lawmakers or unduly enforcing vague state constitutional provisions, such as those requiring free and fair elections. be done to neutralize the legislators.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts wondered whether such broad provisions provide the right “standards and guidelines” for state courts to apply.

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Alito rejected arguments that the legislature would be audited if the Republican position carried the day.

Alito also referred to the election language of the Constitution and said, “In any case, no matter what the “Election Bill” means, Congress can always step in and determine the manner of conducting congressional elections.”

The doctrine is part of the Constitution’s declaration that “the time, place and manner of ‘federal elections’ shall be determined in each state by its legislature.” Republican lawmakers argued that the state court usurped the North Carolina General Assembly’s authority under that provision to regulate federal elections.

Kagan said the theory would free state lawmakers to engage in “the most extreme forms of gerrymandering” — drawing electoral districts to unfairly improve a party’s electoral chances — while imposing “all kinds of restrictions on voting.” and noted that the legislature because of the willingness to re. -Elections can have incentives to suppress, reduce and suppress votes.

Kagan said the theory could also allow lawmakers to insert themselves into the process of determining winners in federal elections — a sensitive issue after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters who wanted to block approval take the victory of the 2020 election of Biden.


Some conservative justices appeared to disagree with aspects of the Republicans’ arguments.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh emphasized the “historical practice” that “almost all state constitutions regulate federal elections in some way.” Another check on a lawmaker’s power — a state governor’s veto — “significantly undermines the argument that he can do whatever he wants,” Roberts said.

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David Thompson, arguing for the North Carolina Legislature, said the Constitution “requires state legislatures to perform exclusively the federal duty of promulgating rules for federal elections. The states do not have the authority to override the legislature’s fundamental authority when performing this federal function.” limit.”

Kavanaugh told Thompson that his position on the theory’s breadth “seems to go further” than that expressed by then-Justice William Rehnquist in a 2000 ruling that decided the outcome of the presidential election — a view that courts have upheld. The state sees it as exceeding its authority over the federal government. elections

The North Carolina Department of Justice is defending the state’s highest court’s decision along with voters and voting rights groups that challenged the plan approved by the legislature in November 2021. They are supported by the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden.

Elizabeth Prelogar, who is arguing for the Biden administration, said that empowering state lawmakers the way Republicans want would cause “a collapse in the administration of elections across the country” and cause federal courts to be flooded with lawsuits about state-run elections.

Reporting by Andrew Chung in Washington and Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nate Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on federal justice and litigation. He can be reached at [email protected]


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