In what is seen as a victory for Democrats, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block orders by courts in Pennsylvania and North Carolina that threw out the congressional maps enacted by the states’ Republican legislatures and replaced them with maps drawn by the trial courts.
Although no action was taken yesterday, four of the nine justices indicated their belief that the high court should take up the issue at the center of both cases – the theory of the “independent state legislature.”
This theory believes that the Constitution gives state legislatures nearly unfettered authority to write the rules for federal elections, with little or no oversight from state courts. A majority of the Supreme Court has never endorsed that theory and, if adopted, could effectively strip state courts of the power to protect voting rights under state constitutions.
The justices denied the Pennsylvania Republicans’ emergency request in a two-page order. They left open, however, the possibility that the case could return to the court soon, noting that the case had been referred to a three-judge district court, and that either side could “exercise their right to appeal from an order of that court” granting or denying temporary relief.
While the Court declined to intervene in the North Carolina case, three justices – Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch – dissented. Alito described the independent-state-legislature theory as “an exceptionally important and recurring question of constitutional law,” and he suggested that the justices “will have to resolve this question sooner or later, and the sooner we do so, the better.” He also wrote that “there must be some limit on the authority of state courts to countermand actions taken by state legislatures when they are prescribing rules for the conduct of federal elections.”