June 28, 2023


Supreme Court says state lawmakers can't just ignore state law when drawing voting districts or choosing presidential electors (The Conversation,  June 27, 2023)

We asked [Henry L. Chambers Jr., a law professor at the University of Richmond, ] to help readers understand the court's opinion, issued on June 27, 2023.

What question did the Supreme Court answer in this opinion?

The court considered whether a state legislature could have the last word, with no review by state courts, regarding gerrymandered congressional districts they created. State legislatures have always been bound by the U.S. Constitution and by federal laws, so they had to draw lines consistent with the federal Voting Rights Act, for example. But the question was whether a state legislature could draw whatever congressional districts it wanted without review by state courts under state law. If so, state legislatures might also have more freedom to affect the choice of state electors in presidential elections.

At issue was a legal theory called the "independent state legislature doctrine," which the court considered in a dispute over gerrymandered North Carolina congressional districts. In early 2022, North Carolina state courts found the Legislature violated the state constitution when it drew congressional districts favoring Republicans. The Legislature claimed the U.S. Constitution gives it authority, unfettered by state courts' interpretation of the state constitution or laws, to regulate congressional elections, and asked the Supreme Court to agree.

The court did not agree.

In cases that involve the legislative action, courts typically consider whether the legislature has contravened state law. If the legislature has, it has made a mistake, and the legislative action tends to be reversed.

This decision merely reiterates what most people always thought the law was: Legislatures cannot legislate in ways that are inconsistent with the law that governs their actions and their state. This conclusion seems obvious, like saying the sky is blue or water is wet.

Posted by at June 28, 2023 12:00 AM