Voting rights activists around the country are celebrating as the Supreme Court released their decision for the Moore v. Harper case, ruling that state legislatures do not have the authority to set election rules outside the constraints of state constitutions. This is the second time this month we have seen a pro-democracy victory, where the Supreme Court soundly rejected an overreach on voting rights.
Moore v. Harper centered around North Carolina’s extreme gerrymandering by the Republican dominated state legislature in 2020, which they were attempting to justify using the “independent state legislature” theory. The state legislature based its case entirely on this controversial legal theory that states the US Constitution grants state legislatures authority to pass election laws and gerrymander electoral maps without interference from state courts or governors. This would give state legislatures unchecked power to create discriminatory voting maps and rules, overhauling our established system of election laws. After the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the partisan maps were unconstitutional, the state legislature filed a writ of certiorari for the US Supreme Court to review the decision.
In a 6-3 ruling, the US Supreme Court explicitly clarified that state legislatures are bound by state constitutional restraints when exercising authority under the Elections Clause and state courts have the power to enforce those provisions. The decision reaffirms our system of checks and balances and clearly determines that state legislatures are not above the law. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “the Elections Clause does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of state judicial review.”
Common Cause, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights are celebrating this deserved win along with other coalition partners that collaborated on the case and mobilized in North Carolina. “The Supreme Court took an important and crucial step today in protecting our system of checks and balances. Today’s decision will ensure that voters will continue to have the full protection of state constitutions against harmful and anti-democratic voter suppression and election manipulation,” said Senior Attorney Hilary Klein of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The Supreme Court’s ruling is an essential victory for voting rights, where the majority conservative court clearly embraced a pro-democracy position.
However, unfortunately, this ruling does not lessen the need for federal reform on election laws. North Carolina will likely still see Republican leaning maps in the next election cycle since the conservative state Supreme Court reversed their previous ruling on partisan maps, refusing to apply restrictions on gerrymandering. Lawmakers on either side of the political spectrum should not have the ability to draw congressional maps simply to benefit themselves. Voters should be picking their representatives, not the other way around. We need federal redistricting reform to ensure that the process is fair, transparent, and upholds the values of our democracy.