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Supreme Court Rejects ‘Independent State Legislature’ Theory

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OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a closely-watched case that could have impacted future elections in a big way.

“The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday rebuffed a legal theory that argued that state legislatures have the authority to set election rules with little oversight from state courts, a major decision that turns away a conservative push to empower state legislatures,” Politico reported.

“By a 6-3 vote, the court rejected the ‘independent state legislature’ theory in a case about North Carolina’s congressional map. The once-fringe legal theory broadly argued that state courts have little — or no — authority to question state legislatures on election laws for federal contests,” the outlet added.

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The case was closely watched as some warned that it could have upended the 2024 presidential race.

“Conservative Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical about a state court’s decision to strike down Republican-drawn congressional districts in North Carolina, but it seemed unlikely a majority would embrace a broad theory that could upend election law nationwide. The appeal brought by North Carolina Republicans asks the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to embrace a hitherto obscure legal argument called the ‘independent state legislature theory,’ which could strip state courts of the power to strike down certain election laws enacted by state legislatures,” the New Yorker reported.

“The independent state legislature argument hinges on language in the Constitution that says election rules ‘shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.’ Supporters of the theory, which has never been endorsed by the Supreme Court, say the language supports the notion that, when it comes to federal election rules, legislatures have ultimate power under state law, potentially irrespective of potential constraints imposed by state constitutions,” the outlet added.

“Backed by Republican leaders at the N.C. General Assembly, the crux of the argument is that they and all other state legislators should have much broader power to write election laws, with courts mostly not allowed to stop them by ruling their actions unconstitutional. They’ve been tight-lipped about the case since filing it this spring, mostly preferring to avoid commenting on it to reporters and instead doing their talking through legal briefs. Beyond redistricting the case also has the potential to change how North Carolina and the 49 other states handle everything from early voting and mail-in ballots rules to voter ID, recounts, post-election audits, and anything else that could possibly affect an election,” the outlet added.

Democrats came out in full force pushing their usual talking points by claiming it could “end democracy.”

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Kathay Feng, who leads the anti-gerrymandering group Common Cause, called it “the case of the century.”

“It is a case that asserts a bizarre and fabricated reading of the United States Constitution … to create a situation where elections are already rigged from the start,” she said.

Eric Holder, a Democrat and former U.S. attorney general under Barack Obama, said it “should keep every American up at night.”

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Michael Luttig, a Republican and retired federal judge who George W. Bush considered nominating to the Supreme Court, recently called it “the single most important case on American democracy” of the last 250 years.

“Some argue it could allow state legislators to overturn future presidential elections. Others say it could create a convoluted system of election rules that would end in people being disenfranchised, as elections split into two systems — one for federal races and another for state races — unlike the system we have now, where all the races are on one ballot with one set of rules,” the report stated.

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