The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (June 30) announced that it will hear a North Carolina gerrymandering case that could upend the balance of power between state legislatures and state courts on voting rights issues across the nation.
If the justices side with North Carolina Republicans, state courts would have vastly diminished powers to block discriminatory voting laws and procedures. Republicans would stand to benefit the most because the GOP currently has complete control of 30 state legislatures compared to just 17 for Democrats, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Supreme Court plans to hear arguments in Moore v. Harper next term, which begins in October. Its decision could impact the 2024 presidential election.
State courts have had the authority to strike down election laws and rules that lawmakers design. That could all change if the high court decides to support the so-called "independent state legislature" theory.
"If the Supreme Court adopts this theory, voters would have their rights further eroded by a neutering of state courts' ability to be more protective of voters than federal courts," Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, told CNN.
North Carolina Republicans filed Moore v. Harper after state judges redrew their congressional map for the 2022 election because the court ruled that the legislature’s maps amounted to partisan gerrymandering that favored GOP candidates.
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an emergency appeal for the upcoming midterm elections. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented, saying they would prefer to hear the case right away, The Washington Post reported.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed with the other conservatives on the bench that the high court should hear the case, but Kavanaugh joined the majority in ordering North Carolina to use the court-drawn maps for the midterm elections.
The delay in hearing the case means the potential consequences of the high court’s decision could impact the 2024 presidential election. If the justices side with North Carolina Republicans, the potential for a “nightmare scenario” is real.
“The nightmare scenario is that a legislature, displeased with how an election official on the ground has interpreted her state’s election laws, would invoke the theory as a pretext to refuse to certify the results of a presidential election and instead select its own slate of electors,” the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, warned.
“Indeed, this isn’t far from the plan attempted by [Donald] Trump allies following his loss in the 2020 election. And, according to former federal judge J. Michael Luttig — a distinguished conservative jurist — the theory is a part of the “Republican blueprint to steal the 2024 election.”