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Supreme Court to hear 2 cases with major implications for 2024


Practically, the results of the cases could open the door to even more gerrymandering by lawmakers across the country, and they could also give legislatures even more power within their states to determine voting rules – including how, when and where voters could vote. .

“In truth, this is not even a gerrymandering case or a voting rights case,” said Allison Riggs, co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, who is one of the attorneys handling the case. ‘affair. “It’s about checks and balances and federalism.”

In both cases, Republican litigants are seeking to overturn orders from lower courts — a federal court in Alabama and the state Supreme Court in North Carolina — that rejected political maps drawn by GOP-controlled legislatures.

“Everyone is going to wait and see where the court goes, and then they’ll have to reevaluate the maps they’ve enacted — legislative and congressional — to see if they’re compliant,” said Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Trust of redistricting.

A ruling accepting a strong version of the independent state legislature theory could reopen the maps the courts have drawn this election cycle, like Pennsylvania or New York — and could, in theory, even challenge the legitimacy of independent redistricting commissions .

Such a move would have blocked many of the court-ordered changes to election rules during the pandemic — and a particularly robust endorsement of the theory could also throw election administration into chaos, as many election-related policies are not specifically enumerated in state law and are in practice delegated to local elected officials.

Beyond the immediate impact on congressional lines across the country, the rulings could continue the Supreme Court’s decades-long march to restrict the ability to challenge election laws in court, which the groups say civil rights advocates and electoral experts, disenfranchises minority voters.

“This term has the potential to be a blockbuster term in terms of election law,” said Rick Hasen, a well-known election law expert at UCLA Law School. “But it really depends on how far the court is willing to go.”

Undermine the Voting Rights Act

In the Alabama case, the plaintiffs argued that the state’s congressional cards violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act – which prohibits discriminatory voting procedures on the basis of race — by diluting the power of black voters. The state is more than a quarter black, but only one of its seven districts is majority-minority. Community groups there argued that a second black district should be drawn, and a lower court agreed.

“It’s not just about black people in Alabam. It’s about black Americans, especially black Americans in the South,” said Shalela Dowdy, who is one of the parties to the case and president of Stand Up Mobile. “But it’s about black Americans and whether or not your vote and your voice will be influential, impactful and heard.”

But the Supreme Court suspended the lower court’s order blocking the Alabama map, and it will likely revisit a decades-old ruling that sets out criteria for testing whether a political map has unlawfully diluted a group’s power. racial.

Chief Justice John Roberts opposed the original decision to stay the lower court’s order, but he nonetheless wrote that the original Supreme Court case “and its offspring have generated considerable disagreement and uncertainty regarding the nature and contours of a claim for vote dilution”.

In its court briefings, Alabama argued that the lower courts erred and said the state had a “race-neutral” reason for drawing its current map: “It’s not because a majority-minority district could be drawn it must be drawn.”

This interpretation, Hasen said, “would overturn the Voting Rights Act” if the Supreme Court accepted it. “This is clearly a race-conscious law. And that would be, through statutory interpretation, a way to undermine the life of such a provision,” he added.

This could be the Supreme Court’s latest blow to the Voting Rights Act, the landmark 1965 law that ushered in greater political representation for Black Americans and other people of color in the decades since its passage. .

Over the past decade, Supreme Court Roberts has dramatically limited the power of the law in a series of decisions. The first one – Shelby County vs. Holder – effectively ended the practice of “preclearance,” in which states and other jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting practices were required to obtain election rule changes, including redistricting lines, pre-approved by either the department of Justice or by a federal court.

More recently, civil rights groups have argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee last year it was much harder to challenge laws that might disadvantage minority voters.

Constitutional clauses

The Moore v. Harper The case outside of North Carolina could be even more ambitious, but the outcome is uncertain, adding tension to the high stakes surrounding the “independent state legislature” theory.

Two conservative justices remain a complete mystery: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Court watchers have previously raised the possibility that there is no five-vote majority for a particular interpretation, with different proponents of the theory offering several different interpretations. There are also major questions about how the court will deal with recent rulings that have blessed independent redistricting commissions and delegated the role of controlling partisan gerrymandering to state courts.

Riggs said she was “optimistic” about the case, which has yet to have a scheduled hearing, given disagreements over the theory among her supporters.

“Legally speaking, I think this is really one of the cases where the briefing and the arguments – up to the point where the court decided to take the case – weren’t really fleshed out, and that wouldn’t surprise me. not if this is the one they end up regretting taking,” she said.

The case also drew the rare friend of the court briefing from the Conference of Chief Justices, a task force of senior state judges. While their brief was theoretically not in favor of either party, it sought to reject the theory of independent state legislatures, arguing that the U.S. Constitution “does not supersede the constitutional rules of the states” governing elections.

Republicans also rejected warnings from civil rights groups, election law experts and Democratic lawyers about Moore as histrionic.

“This case, in my mind, and in the minds of most lawyers I’ve spoken to, is not a threat to democracy,” Kincaid said. “If anything, it should give Americans more confidence in their election next year, if we have a set of rules in place, on how those processes can and cannot be changed.”

Some GOP lawyers — notably John Eastman, who was behind then-President Donald Trump’s failed strategy to try to subdue fake voters — have tried to argue that the same principles in this case should be applied to the election clause of the Constitution, which could give state lawmakers even more power over the selection of the president. But even some conservative lawyers have rejected Eastman’s interpretation, and there is significant disagreement among election lawyers about the threat the independent legislature theory poses here.

But taken together, some have framed both cases as an existential challenge to the US electoral system, with particularly strong results in both cases undermining the system’s checks and balances.

“You can’t look at these cases objectively, without recognizing the fact that taken together, they could determine whether or not the United States remains the democracy we love,” said former attorney general Eric Holder, who runs the National. Democratic Redistricting. Committee, told reporters. “I think, unfortunately, we take for granted a democracy that delivers on the promise of one person, one vote.”

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