WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled Tuesday that state legislatures do not have complete power over elections in a challenge brought by North Carolina legislators.
“The Elections Clause does not vest exclusive and independent authority in state legislatures to set the rules regarding federal elections,” SCOTUS ruled in a 6-3 majority decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts. The legal theory is called the “independent state legislatures theory.”
Liberal Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ketanji Jackson joined the opinion, along with Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Barrett.
Conservative groups sided with North Carolina Speaker of the House Timothy Moore who challenged the state judiciary’s ability to intervene against new congressional maps. The North Carolina Supreme Court itself eventually reversed its ruling against the new legislative maps.
“We are asked to decide whether the Elections Clause carves out an exception to this basic principle [of judicial review],” Chief Justice Roberts wrote. “We hold that it does not. The Elections Clause does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of state judicial review.”
“State courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause,” he wrote in concluding his opinion. “But federal courts must not abandon their own duty to exercise judicial review. In interpreting state law in this area, state courts may not so exceed the bounds of ordinary judicial review as to unconstitutionally intrude upon the role specifically reserved to state legislatures by Article I, Section 4, of the Federal Constitution.”
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch and in one part by Justice Samuel Alito. He argued that the case before the Supreme Court was moot because North Carolina’s highest court had already reversed itself and ended challenges to the maps.
“Whether we accept or reject petitioners’ Elections Clause defense, plaintiffs-respondents’ claims remain dismissed,” Justice Thomas wrote. “As far as this case is concerned, there simply is nothing this Court could decide that could make any difference to who wins or what happens next in any lower court.”
He warned that the majority opinion would open up the federal judiciary and get it over-involved in state election issues. There will be a “federalization of state constitutions [which] will serve mainly to swell federal-court dockets with state constitutional questions to be quickly resolved with generic statements of deference to the state courts,” Justice Thomas predicted.
“On the other hand, there are bound to be exceptions,” he wrote. “They will arise haphazardly, in the midst of quickly evolving, politically charged controversies, and the winners of federal elections may be decided by a federal court’s expedited judgment that a state court exceeded ‘the bounds of ordinary judicial review’ in construing the state constitution.”