By Nate Raymond
(Reuters) – A group representing chief justices in all 50 states is urging the U.S. Supreme Court not to shield actions by state legislatures that affect federal elections – such as redistricting and voting restrictions – from control of state courts.
The bipartisan Conference of Supreme Court Justices filed the brief Tuesday in a closely watched case involving a map drawn by North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature in the 14 U.S. House districts. The state’s highest court struck down the map on February 4, concluding that the districts had been drawn in a manner deliberately biased against Democrats, diminishing their “fundamental right to equal voting power.”
The Conference of Chief Justices argued that the U.S. Constitution does not prevent state courts from reviewing such congressional maps for violations of state constitutions, as Republican state lawmakers who defend the map argue.
The North Carolina Supreme Court rejected arguments by Republicans seeking to exempt US congressional electoral maps from legal review in state courts. A lower state court on Feb. 23 rejected a redrawn map submitted by the Legislature and instead adopted a different map drawn up by a bipartisan panel of experts.
The conservative-majority US Supreme Court will hear the case in its next term, which begins in October, with a decision by June.
The Republican defense of the North Carolina legislature’s charter is based on a legal theory called the “independent legislature doctrine” that is gaining traction in conservative legal circles and, if upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, would greatly increase political scrutiny in the manner in which elections are conducted. be conducted.
Under this doctrine, language in the U.S. Constitution called the Elections Clause gives state legislatures, not state courts or other entities, power over election rules, including drawing electoral districts.
The Conference of Chief Justices in its brief said the argument fell on the face of history and that the Constitution does not prohibit states from allowing their courts to review state elections under their state constitutions.
“The Elections Clause does not derogate from the power of state courts to decide what a state’s election law is, including whether it is consistent with the state and U.S. Constitutions,” the conference attorneys wrote.
Two groups of plaintiffs, including Democratic voters and an environmental group, sued after the North Carolina legislature approved Congress’ version of the map last November. The plaintiffs argued that the charter violated provisions of the North Carolina state constitution regarding free elections and freedom of assembly, among other things.
The dispute is one of a number of US legal battles over the makeup of electoral districts, which are redrawn every decade to reflect population changes measured in a national census, last taken in 2020. In most states, this redistricting done by the party in power, which can lead to map manipulation for partisan gain.
Republicans have also enacted voting restrictions in several states that they say are necessary to combat fraud, but critics say are intended to reduce Democrats’ electoral strength.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Will Dunham)