Supreme Court case could allow for more party shenanigans

The Supreme Court is hearing Wednesday in a major election law case that began with North Carolina Republicans drawing a highly biased redistricting map and could end with politicians gaining unfettered power in federal elections.

The question is whether state judges and governors play any role in revising or changing state election rules, or whether that power resides solely with the state legislature.

The theory of a so-called independent state legislature has caused alarm among many, coming just two years after then-President Trump and some of his allies attempted to undo his defeat by having state legislators declare him the winner.

North Carolina Republicans are filing an appeal with the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, arguing that their demands reflect the original intent of the Constitution, which states that “the time, place, and manner of elections” for members of Congress “shall be prescribed in every state by its legislature.”

Republicans argue that these words show that the Constitution has given the legislature independent and exclusive authority to make rules for filing and counting ballots and to draw up election maps.

However, for most of American history, this was not an understanding of the law. State judges and state supreme courts typically oversee voting disputes in federal, state, and local elections.

A separate but similar provision of the Constitution applies to presidential elections. It states that “each state shall nominate” electors who vote for the president “in such manner as its Legislative Assembly may direct.”

This provision is not considered in the case of North Carolina, and all states legally select their electors on the basis of a popular vote.

But some voting law experts fear that a Supreme Court decision delegating more power to state legislators could spur some to claim the right to appoint alternative voters who pledge to support the legislators’ presidential candidate rather than the one the voters have chosen. Such a move was advocated by some Trump supporters in 2020.

The case will also affect the state’s redistricting efforts.

Last year, the Republican Party-controlled North Carolina legislature drew an election map that virtually guaranteed that Republicans would win 10 of 14 seats in the House of Representatives. Common Cause and others sued, and the Democratic-majority state Supreme Court overturned the card because it gave Republicans “an extraordinary partisan advantage.”

State judges selected a panel of election experts who drew a new map that more accurately reflects the state’s political makeup.

In February, North Carolina Republicans, led by House Speaker Timothy Moore, filed an emergency appeal with the Supreme Court asking judges to block the state’s decision and reinstate a card favorable to the Republican Party. The judges refused to intervene due to the disagreement of Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch.

Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh said it was too late to change districts again before the midterms, but expressed interest in resolving the underlying legal issue.

In June court voted to hear Moore v. Harper and decide whether state judges can overrule the election map drawn up by the legislature.

When voters went to the polls in North Carolina last month, they chose seven Republicans and seven Democrats.