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Justices take up election cases that can reshape votes

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The Supreme Court is taking up a case with the potential to fundamentally reshape congressional and presidential elections.

The justices on Wednesday heard arguments over the power of state courts to overturn congressional districts drawn by the Legislature because they violate the state constitution.

North Carolina Republicans who are bringing the case to the high court argue that a provision of the US Constitution known as the Elections Clause gives state lawmakers virtually complete control over the “time, place and manner” of congressional elections, including reappointments and recesses. Outside the state court process.

Republicans are advancing an idea called the independent legislature theory, which has never before been adopted by the Supreme Court but has been mentioned with approval by four conservative justices.

A sweeping ruling could threaten hundreds of election laws, require separate rules for federal and state elections on the same ballot, and lead to new efforts to redraw congressional districts to increase partisan advantage.

The court’s decision in the North Carolina case may also suggest how the justices deal with another section of the Constitution — not at issue in the current case — that gives legislatures the power to decide how presidential electors are appointed. That provision, the Electors’ Clause, was at the center of efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election in several closely contested states.

The North Carolina state Supreme Court struck Republican-drawn districts that control the legislature because they heavily favored Republicans in the highly competitive state. The court-drawn map used in last month’s election for Congress produced a 7-7 split between Democrats and Republicans.

North Carolina is among six states in recent years where state courts have ruled that overly partisan redistricting for Congress violated their state constitutions. The others are Florida, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

State courts have become the only legal forum to challenge partisan congressional maps since the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that those cases cannot be brought in federal court.

Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court and joined by four other conservative justices, noted that state courts remain open. “State laws and provisions of state constitutions can provide standards and guidelines for state courts to apply,” Roberts wrote in an opinion joined by Justices Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas.

But Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas wrote in March that they would allow the Republican-drawn map to be used this year. Alito wrote for the three justices that “there must be some limit to the authority of state courts to resist actions taken by state legislatures in setting rules for the conduct of federal elections. I think it is likely that petitioners will succeed in showing that the North Carolina Supreme Court has exceeded that limit. ”

Kavanaugh separately wrote about the need for federal courts to preempt state court action in federal election cases, citing three conservative opinions in the Bush v. Gore case that settled the 2000 presidential election. Thomas was one of three justices in that 22-year-old opinion, but the court decided the case on other grounds.

In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers will not have to wait for a court decision to draw a new congressional map that is expected to include more Republican districts.

Even as Democrats won half of the state’s 14 congressional seats, Republicans seized control of the state Supreme Court. Two newly elected Republican justices gave them a 5-2 edge, making it more likely the court would uphold a map with more Republican districts.



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