The North Carolina Supreme Court backed a Republican-drawn congressional map in a ruling that could scuttle a major US Supreme Court elections case.
The state court on Friday overruled its 2022 decision that had said the districts were so partisan they violated the North Carolina Constitution. The US Supreme Court has been reviewing that ruling in a case centering on which parts of state governments have authority to shape federal election rules.
The litigation took an unusual twist when Republicans seized control of the North Carolina Supreme Court in last year’s election. The state court said it would then reconsider at least part of the dispute, raising questions about the US Supreme Court’s jurisdiction.
The top US court in March
The Supreme Court case centers on the “independent state legislature theory,” which would oust state judges and other officials from longstanding roles in shaping the rules for federal elections.
Mark Elias, one of the lawyers challenging the GOP map, tweeted that the North Carolina ruling “will almost certainly mean SCOTUS will not decide the controversial ISL theory this term.” Elias is the founding partner at Elias Law Group, which advocates on behalf of Democratic causes.
“It’s a pretty dangerous thing to allow state supreme courts to essentially test drive their opinion and go through oral argument at the US Supreme Court and then pull it back,” Katyal, a partner at Hogan Lovells, said in an interview for Bloomberg’s “Cases and Controversies” podcast.
Republicans are pushing the independent state legislature theory, which could affect voter eligibility and mail-in ballot requirements, as well as congressional district lines. They say the approach would ensure that elected representatives, not judges or administrators, are setting out the voting rules.
Critics say the independent state legislature theory would have dire implications for democracy, depriving voters of crucial layers of protection, wreaking havoc on election administration and changing a centuries-old constitutional understanding.
The Supreme Court arguments in December suggested even some of the conservative justices were wary of the theory, at least in its most sweeping form.
The North Carolina Supreme Court’s rehearing focused primarily on a follow-up part of the case — a ruling that had imposed a judge-drawn map to replace the legislature’s lines. But Friday’s decision went further, overturning a December 2022 ruling that said the state constitution puts limits on partisan gerrymandering.
The 5-2 decision, written by Chief Justice
The US Supreme Court case is Moore v. Harper, 21-1271.
(Updates with reaction from Elias, Katyal starting in sixth paragraph.)
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