The United States Supreme Court on Monday denied emergency petitions filed by Republicans in North Carolina and Pennsylvania asking the court to strike down maps of congressional districts approved by courts in both states.
North Carolina Republicans had asked the court to overturn a map drawn by state courts after finding that the original map adopted by the Republican legislature was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander under the state constitution. In Pennsylvania, Republicans wanted to overturn a map drawn by a state court implemented after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the map passed by the Republican-majority legislature.
In doing so, the Supreme Court refused to accept a sweeping legal theory known as the independent state legislature doctrine that could have upended redistricting and voting rights across the country.
Four conservative justices — Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Brett Kavanaugh — who seemed open to adopting this doctrine in two cases in 2020, however, remain open to it and anticipate a case resolving the issue at some point in the future. close.
At issue is whether state courts can continue to play a role in reviewing the illegality of district maps or election laws passed by state legislatures under their constitutions. Proponents of the independent state legislature doctrine believe that the Elections Clause of the US Constitution gives state legislatures exclusive power to set the “time, place, and manner” of elections.
Voting rights and fair constituencies would be greatly threatened if state legislatures were no longer bound by their state constitutions in setting election laws or drawing district maps.
The Supreme Court ruled in Rucho v. 2019 Common Cause that federal courts should not interfere in the congressional redistricting process to control partisan gerrymandering.
Instead, “provisions of state statutes and constitutions may provide standards and guidance for application by state courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the Rucho decision.
While the court did not gut its decision in the Rucho case by removing state courts from the redistricting process, the fact that four conservative justices may want to do so poses an ongoing danger to the franchise.
“The problem is almost certain to continue to arise until the Court finally resolves it,” Kavanaugh wrote in agreement with the landmark decision declining to intervene in the North Carolina case.
“We will have to resolve this issue sooner or later, and the sooner we do, the better,” Alito wrote in a dissent joined by Thomas and Gorsuch.
The court denied North Carolina’s request but said Pennsylvania’s case was before a three-judge panel and could still be brought before them in the future.