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North Carolina about-face leaves Supreme Court contemplating its role in major elections battle

A consequential election case on the high court’s docket could be stalling out after the North Carolina Supreme Court muddied the justices’ jurisdiction.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court requested additional briefing Thursday in a major elections case on its docket that the state high court’s reversal may now moot. 

Last month, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed course on a redistricting battle playing out in the state. The previously Democratic-leaning state high court said North Carolina’s constitution left state high courts unable to police partisan gerrymanders, however, Republicans flipped the majority and then decided the opposite. 

The glitch is the Supreme Court already received briefing and heard oral arguments after the case was brought to them last year. Now the justices have asked for additional filings in the case on their next move. 

The parties and the government have a week to brief the court on how the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling impacts the justices’ jurisdiction in the case. 

Along with the redistricting battle brought by state lawmakers, the case also embraces the independent state legislature theory. Lawmakers claim the Constitution’s elections clause mandates federal elections to “be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.” Taking the words literally, lawmakers claim the general assembly is the only body allowed to dictate how elections are run in the state. 

Many others, however, read the elections clause to refer to the lawmaking process — which allows judicial review by state courts. Legal experts have warned that not doing so would usurp critical checks and balances in elections. 

Following the 2020 census, North Carolina conducted a redraw of its congressional maps spurring this dispute. The new maps were found to reflect partisan gerrymandering, however, a three-judge panel said it was unable to remedy gerrymandering under the state’s constitution. The North Carolina Supreme Court then reversed, finding the maps unconstitutional. 

Without any approved maps from legislators, the court revised the maps itself. Lawmakers then appealed to the Supreme Court through the emergency docket. The justices, however, declined to intervene. In June, the high court added the dispute to its docket, setting up a major ruling on elections. 

In December, the justices heard oral arguments but it was unclear whether lawmakers had a full-throated endorsement from the conservative supermajority. 

Only months later in February, the Supreme Court became even more unsure of how it would rule in the case when it was announced the newly minted Republican majority on the state Supreme Court wanted a second swing at the case. 

The justices asked for additional briefing on their ability to decide the case. The Biden administration said the Supreme Court likely no longer maintained the authority to rule on the issue. Voting rights groups, however, warned if the justices did not rule on the suit this term, the controversial independent state legislature could be before them again but in an election year. 

Along with the redistricting ruling, the state Supreme Court also upheld a previously thrown-out photo voter identification law that had been struck down for being racially biased. 

The state general assembly is currently held by a Republican veto-proof majority following a Democrat announcing her party shift. 

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Government, Law, Politics

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