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 December 11, 2022

Supreme Court splits on case involving redistricting maps

The U.S. Supreme Court is uniquely split over a case involving the role of state and federal courts in overseeing redistricting maps, the Washington Examiner reported. Moore v. Harper, the case at the heart of this debate, won't be decided until 2023.

Oral arguments began Wednesday in a case stemming from a legal dispute over a North Carolina redistricting map. The Republican majority legislature had drawn it up as required, but it was subsequently thrown out by the state's Supreme Court.

The court determined that the legislators, comprised of 14 Republicans, were akin to "unlawful partisan gerrymanders." One of the plaintiffs, North Carolina House of Representatives GOP Speaker Tim Moore, instead asserted the "independent state legislature theory" following the state supreme court's ruling against the map in February.

This means that the legislature would have "the federal function of regulating congressional elections" under the U.S. Constitution so the state courts could "not limit the legislature's discretion." If the nation's high court finds in favor of the Republican lawmakers, it could have far-reaching implications for election regulations going forward.

However, the most noteworthy aspect of the case is how judges seem to be siding on the issue already. The U.S. Supreme Court is balanced 6-3 in favor of Republican-appointed justices.

Still, there seems to be some agreement that there is a need to find a moderate remedy. For instance, Justice Elena Kagan worried about the "big consequences" of giving so much power to state legislatures.

She asserted that such power would "get rid of the normal checks and balances." Moreover, Kagan contended that finding in favor of the "independent state legislature theory" could lead to complications with certifying elections and egregious gerrymandering.

Surprisingly, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett appeared to follow Kagan's line of thinking. Predictably, Democrat-appointed Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson objected to the Republican lawmakers' theory.

Only Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch appeared to side with the North Carolina Republicans. Whether the final decision will break down that way depends on what happens during proceedings, however.

The predictions about how justices may find came from the kinds of questions they asked. "There's been a lot of talk about the impact of this decision on democracy," Alito said, setting up his question.

"Do you think that it furthers democracy to transfer the political controversy about districting from the legislature to elected supreme courts where the candidates are permitted by state law to campaign on the issue of districts?" This could indicate that Alito believes the issue should stay in the state legislature.

The theory about Roberts' opinion came from a point made that a previous high court decision "undermined" the arguments made by attorneys for Moore. Likewise, the questions Barrett and Kavanaugh asked of an attorney for a voting rights group seemed to indicate they would consider siding with Moore's position without agreeing to the entire theory.

Despite the importance of the case, Cato Institute adjunct scholar Andrew Grossman called the media's hysteria "overblown" when it comes to predictions. "Moore is an important case for democracy because it concerns whether election rules will be made by democratically elected legislatures or by judges. But, as today's argument reflects, the overblown claims that this case is about stealing elections or disenfranchising voters have no basis in law or reality."

It's unclear how the U.S. Supreme Court will side since arguments just began. However, it seems the issue of redistricting maps only came up when it was Republicans who were drawing them -- and that may have more to do with this dispute than anything.

Written By:
Christine Favocci

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