Moore v. Harper, 597 U.S. No. 21 1271 (S. Ct.)
Complaint Filed: November 18, 2021
State: North Carolina
Current Status or Final Disposition: Application for Stay Pending Filing and Disposition of a Petition for Writ of Certiorari Denied (March 7, 2022); Petition for Writ of Certiorari Granted (June 30, 2022); Oral Argument held (December 7, 2022); Decided June 27, 2023
Summary: After the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down the North Carolina Legislature’s gerrymandered congressional districting map for violating the North Carolina Constitution, Republican lawmakers brought suit arguing that the “independent state legislature theory” authorizes state legislatures to violate the state constitution when drawing congressional maps and that state courts are powerless to intervene and stop them. The theory relies on a literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, which says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” The theory argues that only state legislatures, not courts, have the authority to administer federal elections in their states. The North Carolina Supreme Court rejected the theory and held that the claims were justiciable in North Carolina courts because it is the duty of the state judiciary to protect the state constitutional rights of citizens. Additionally, the court held that the state legislative districting plans—enacted by Republicans on a party line vote—were unlawful partisan gerrymanders that violated the free elections clause, the equal protection clause, the free speech clause, and the freedom of assembly clause of the North Carolina Constitution. In March 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the Republican legislators’ emergency appeal to put the congressional map back in place immediately, but in June, the Court granted certiorari (without reinstating the contested congressional districting map) and agreed to hear the case. Oral argument was heard on December 7.
On June 27, 2023, in a 6–3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the North Carolina Supreme Court rejecting the independent state legislature theory. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause does not give state legislatures exclusive authority over federal elections. Chief Justice Roberts authored the majority opinion, writing that the “Elections Clause does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of state judicial review.” The opinion further noted that “[w]hile the Court does not adopt a test by which state court interpretations of state law can be measured in cases implicating the Elections Clause, state courts may not transgress the ordinary bounds of judicial review such that they arrogate to themselves the power vested in state legislatures to regulate federal elections.” This caveat may be expected to become a subject of future redistricting litigation.