By Ashok Nilakantan
New York, July 3 (IANS): The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the redistricting case that could majorly impact the upcoming November 8 elections to the 435-member house of representatives following the 2020 census of reapportionment of constituencies for the mid-terms.
On Thursday, the apex court agreed to hear a dispute over redistricting in North Carolina, a case that could have major implications for voting rights across the country and fundamentally change the landscape of election law, feel election analysts.
At the centre of the wide-ranging case is the fate of a legal doctrine that allows state courts to check the behaviour of state legislatures.
A decision to undermine the courts could empower state lawmakers in disputes over redistricting maps and potentially offer them more freedom to intervene in federal elections, CNN TV network reports.
The decision to hear the case is a boon to Republicans, who control the majority of state legislatures, and have seen congressional and state legislative maps struck down by state courts.
The so-called "Independent State Legislature" theory, which lies at the centre of the legal nuts and bolts, was also pushed by allies of former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election as part of their bid to effectively overrule the will of voters and potentially replace electors for President Joe Biden with slates selected by Trump allies in state government, says CNN.
According to Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, legislatures have set ground rules for conducting an election, but not acted alone or with the final word.
The processes they set in place, as it currently stands, are also subject to intervention and interpretation by election administrators and state courts. "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," Hasen said.
The appeal was brought by Republicans in North Carolina who challenge congressional maps drawn by state judges that reportedly favour Democrats.
The dispute arose after North Carolina gained a seat in the House of Representatives, and the North Carolina General Assembly twice adopted new congressional districting maps. On both occasions, however, the state Supreme Court rejected the maps and finally ordered that the 2022 election go forward with maps drawn by judges. The court held that the General Assembly's maps amounted to partisan gerrymanders and violated provisions of the state constitution, says CNN.
"Achieving partisan advantage not commensurate with a political party's level of statewide voter support is neither a compelling nor a legitimate governmental interest," the majority wrote in its opinion. Lawyers for Republican state House Speaker Timothy Moore and state Senate President Pro Tempore Philip Berger asked the Supreme Court to step in to block the lower court ruling on an emergency basis back in March.
The court had then declined to step in over the dissent of Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch. Alito, writing for his colleagues, said that the case presented an "exceptionally important and recurring question of constitutional law."
"If the language of the Electors Clause is taken seriously, there must be some limit on the authority of state courts to countermand actions taken by state legislatures when they are prescribing rules for the conduct of federal elections," Alito wrote.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh concurred with his conservative colleagues that the court should eventually take up the issue of the role of state courts. But he joined the majority in the case at hand, allowing the maps to be used for upcoming election procedures.
"This Court has repeatedly ruled that federal courts ordinarily should not alter state election laws in the period close to an election," Kavanaugh wrote.