Supreme Court hears case considering state legislatures' authority over elections process

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday heard oral arguments in Moore v. Harper, a case that could have major implications on state legislatures' control of their elections free of federal interference.

In question in the case is the interpretation of part of Article I of the Constitution. Article I says that state legislatures have the authority to make rules around the “Times, Places and Manner” of congressional elections.

As The Center Square previously reported, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina argue in a brief to the court that "the text of the Elections Clause provides the answer: it assigns state legislatures the federal function of regulating congressional elections."

The case began when North Carolina lawmakers created a new congressional district map that critics say was gerrymandered, a tactic commonly used by whichever party is in power to draw district lines so that the voting demographics in each district are divided up to help one party win more seats.

Democrats challenged the map in court, and eventually North Carolina’s state Supreme Court, which is majority Democrat, ruled against Republicans’ map. Special masters were tasked to draw maps used in the 2022 midterms, and their intent – also through use of gerrymandering – to produce a 7-7 split of Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House was achieved.

Now at the U.S. Supreme Court, attorneys for lawmakers argue the Constitution explicitly gives the power over elections to state legislatures, regardless of what the state courts rule.

The justices grilled both sides, with both liberal and conservative justices raising tough questions. 

"If the North Carolina decision is permitted to stand, state courts will usurp the prerogatives of state legislatures,” said Bartlett Cleland, counsel for ALEC, which filed an amicus brief in the case. “As stated by the U.S. Supreme Court just two years ago, 'The Constitution provides that state legislatures – not federal judges, not state judges, not state governors, not other state officials – bear primary responsibility for setting election rules.'"

The ACLU took the opposite side, saying in a statement Wednesday that North Carolina “legislators are asking for the power to ignore their own state constitutions.”

“Our government is based on the idea that legislators and all government actors must act within the bounds of written constitutions created by the People,” ACLU said in a statement. “The Supreme Court must uphold the rule of law in our federal elections. Our democracy is at stake.”

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