WASHINGTON, D.C., June 27, 2023 – In an unexpected decision in Moore v. Harper, the Supreme Court ruled against the obscure “independent state legislature” (ISL) theory that would have given state lawmakers unchecked power over federal elections. The case arose out of North Carolina, where a newly reconstituted state supreme court is planning to revisit its original decision against partisan gerrymandering, which many suspected would lead to this ruling becoming moot. By not mooting the case, the justices protected a core aspect of the democratic process.
Proponents of ISL claim that because the Constitution tasks state legislators with determining the “times, places, and manners” of elections for members of Congress, this meant that state courts could not review those decisions as they do all other legislation from state courts. In other words, they believe state lawmakers could essentially never be challenged in how they hold elections, including on any restrictions that may limit access to the polls.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts makes crystal clear that ISL is not a correct interpretation of the Constitution. “When state legislatures prescribe the rules concerning federal elections, they remain subject to the ordinary exercise of state judicial review,” he writes.
Alliance for Justice President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement:
“Every day the Supreme Court stops short of rolling back rights and eroding our democracy is a good day. The ‘independent state legislature’ doctrine is an indefensible interpretation of the Constitution and it should have never gotten this far. Today’s ruling does its best to ensure that state courts will continue to exercise their important role in protecting voting rights across the country. But let the buyer beware: Brett Kavanaugh’s concurrence is an open invitation to further attacks on the rule of law.
“Whatever good this decision achieves, North Carolina still faces the consequences of an emboldened conservative state supreme court. The work must continue to protect voting rights and equal representation in all 50 states so the United States doesn’t become a democracy in name only.”