A pending case before the U.S. Supreme Court could give state legislatures largely unchecked power to draw congressional district boundaries and regulate federal elections. 

On Dec. 7, justices heard arguments in Moore v. Harper, a case out of North Carolina where Republican lawmakers are looking to reverse a state Supreme Court’s ruling that the legislature violated the state constitution by engaging in partisan gerrymandering.  

The North Carolina lawmakers say that they should have broad power to draw district boundaries and regulate federal elections under the independent state legislature theory. This legal doctrine is based on a reading of the Constitution’s Election Clause which states that the time and place of holding elections “shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.”

While the term legislature has historically been understood to encompass all of state government, including the governor, judicial branch and constitution, the theory’s supporters argue that it should be understood literally as elected representatives. State legislative actions on elections should be subject to oversight only from the federal courts, they say. 

Voting rights advocates worry that ruling in favor of the lawmakers could nullify state constitutional bans on gerrymandering and strip authority from state election officials. The theory’s supporters contend that state courts and administrative could continue to interpret and administer election laws, but would simply not have the authority to override legislation. 

Most justices seemed hesitant to accept a broad version of the theory during arguments, Amy Howe of ScotusBlog wrote last week. The court should rule on the case by early summer. 

Oklahoma’s latest redistricting map completed last year was criticized for splitting Hispanic communities in urban Oklahoma City, but no group mounted a legal challenge against it. Voting laws enacted by the Legislature in recent years have similarly not faced legal scrutiny. 

I’ll be watching closely for a ruling in this case. Have questions, thoughts or comments on this topic or something else democracy-related? Let me know at Kross@Oklahomawatch.org.

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What I’m Reading

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Organizers Withdraw Petition for State Question on Abortion Access: One of the initiative’s proponents said the group needed more time to build a coalition and increase the odds of collecting the necessary number of signatures. [The Oklahoman]

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