Late last month, in one of its final acts of the term, the Supreme Court queued up another potentially precedent-wrecking decision for next year. The Court’s agreement to hear Moore v. Harper, a North Carolina redistricting case, isn’t just bad news for efforts to control gerrymandering. The Court’s right-wing supermajority is poised to let state lawmakers overturn voters’ choice in presidential elections.
To understand the stakes, and the motives of Republicans who brought the case, you need only one strategic fact of political arithmetic. Six swing states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina—are trending blue in presidential elections but ruled by gerrymandered Republican state legislatures. No comparable red-trending states are locked into Democratic legislatures.
Joe Biden won five of those six swing states in 2020. Donald Trump then tried and failed, lawlessly, to muscle the GOP state legislators into discarding Biden’s victory and appointing Trump electors instead. The Moore case marks the debut in the nation’s highest court of a dubious theory that could give Republicans legal cover in 2024 to do as Trump demanded in 2020. And if democracy is subverted in just a few states, it can overturn the election nationwide.
Republican lawyers, taking note of their structural advantage among battleground-state lawmakers, set forth the “independent state legislature” (ISL) doctrine. The doctrine is based on a tendentious reading of two constitutional clauses, which assign control of the “Manner” of congressional elections and the appointment of presidential electors in each state to “the Legislature thereof.” Based on that language, the doctrine proposes that state lawmakers have virtually unrestricted power over elections and electors. State courts and state constitutions, by this reading, hold no legitimate authority over legislatures in the conduct of their U.S. constitutional functions. [Continue reading…]