The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that judges do have the power to override state legislatures when it comes to how federal elections are carried out.

At issue in Moore v. Harper was a constitutional dispute over the power of a state courts to regulate federal elections – in this case, gerrymandered redistricting maps. Some state lawmakers were seeking a favorable interpretation of the “independent state legislature” (ISL) theory, asking for near-total control over regulation of federal elections for president and members of Congress. 

The case went to the high Court after a North Carolina state court threw out GOP-drawn congressional maps first submitted in November 2021.

Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Timothy Moore gives speech alongside General Assembly members.  (Credit: David Cobb)

The maps were deemed unconstitutional by a majority Democrat State Supreme Court, with the GOP maps seemingly giving the Republican-led legislature an advantage in the state’s 14 congressional districts.

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The court-drawn maps were ultimately used in the state’s midterm elections, producing seven seats for each party. The GOP state legislature is arguing that the use of the court-drawn maps is a violation of the General Assembly’s constitutional right per the elections clause.

The GOP legislature is asked the Supreme Court to invoke the ISL doctrine, which hinges on the interpretation of the Constitution to mean that state legislatures have “plenary” or unqualified authority to decide how elections are conducted, absent almost any state judicial review.

The Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court issued its ruling in Moore v. Harper. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

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Article 1 of the Constitution reads, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” 

supreme court justices new session

As the Supreme Court’s term nears its end, the justices have several key cases yet to decide. (Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States via Getty Images)

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GOP advocates argue the case could have implications on the security of elections nationwide, as a decision siding with the North Carolina Supreme Court could give additional authority to state and federal courts to intervene in future election proceedings. 

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But many on the other side of the aisle viewed the independent state legislature doctrine as too broad, arguing the end result could negatively affect democracy as a whole and open the door to further gerrymandering in a political climate with low voter trust.

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