On Tuesday, the Supreme Court delivered a strong rebuke to a fringe legal theory backed by former President Trump about U.S. elections.
The theory asserted that state legislatures possess unrestricted authority in organizing federal elections, virtually free from oversight by state courts.
In a 6-3 ruling penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, an ideologically diverse group of justices concluded that the Elections Clause of the US Constitution does not grant state legislatures unchecked power over elections, uninfluenced by state court intervention.
Chief Justice John Roberts led the majority opinion, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “If the Elections Clause had conferred exclusive authority upon state legislatures, unimpeded by state courts upholding provisions of state constitutions, these provisions would have been rendered unenforceable from the outset.”
The court maintained that the Elections Clause of the Constitution “does not exclusively vest autonomous authority in state legislatures to establish regulations for federal elections.”
The case emerged from the decision of the North Carolina Supreme Court in February 2022, which invalidated a congressional map drawn by the Republican-led legislature after the 2020 census, labeling it an “egregious and intentional partisan gerrymander.”
Roberts asserted, “State courts retain the power to enforce restrictions imposed by state constitutions when legislatures act within the authority conferred upon them by the Elections Clause. However, federal courts must not relinquish their duty to exercise judicial review. While interpreting state law in this domain, state courts must not exceed the boundaries of ordinary judicial review, thereby infringing upon the role explicitly reserved for state legislatures by Article I, Section 4, of the Federal Constitution.”
In this particular case, the Supreme Court determined that it was unnecessary to decide whether the North Carolina Supreme Court exceeded the limits imposed by the Elections Clause. Consequently, the Court affirmed the state supreme court’s ruling.
On April 28, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed its 2022 decision, stating that it lacked the authority to review the map under the state constitution.
Consequently, the Biden administration urged the justices to dismiss the case as moot. However, the legislatures argued that a ruling was still necessary since the state court did not address the federal “independent state legislature” question, which is likely to be presented to the Supreme Court in the future.