As has become increasingly common in our litigious society, the congressional redistricting process has ended up in court in several states as newly redrawn maps have been challenged for a variety of different reasons, and in some cases, the state courts have intervened to overrule the state legislatures.
That is the situation in both North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where new district maps drawn by Republican-controlled legislatures have been tossed out by state courts, but the U.S. Supreme Court just declined to intervene on behalf of the usurped legislators on Monday, The Washington Times reported.
However, though the nation’s high court may have declined to take up these two particular cases at this time, it was nonetheless made clear that the underlying issue in the challenges is an important one that the Supreme Court will eventually be compelled to directly address at some point in the future.
State courts overruling state legislature-drawn district maps
At issue in these two cases, according to SCOTUSblog, is the constitutional theory of the “independent state legislature” and the belief that the U.S. Constitution grants all authority to state legislatures, and the legislatures alone, to craft the rules and regulations regarding elections in the respective states.
The theory further holds that, barring extreme examples of clearly unconstitutional acts, state courts have little or no right to intervene against or overrule state legislatures when it comes to governing the manner in which state elections will be conducted.
Yet, that is what happened in North Carolina when a GOP-favorable map produced by the Republican-controlled legislature was challenged by Democrats and rejected by the courts — to be replaced by a court-drawn map that was less favorable to the Republican majority.
Meanwhile, a similar occurrence took place in Pennsylvania, where the Republican-controlled legislature’s relatively balanced map — which was actually slightly more favorable to Democrats — was likewise challenged and replaced by the courts with a map that was even more favorable to the Democratic Party.
Conservative jurists dissent
An order Monday from the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request from Republican voters in Pennsylvania to issue an injunction against the state supreme court’s map that replaced the one previously drawn by the GOP legislature.
“This case has now been referred to a three-judge court, and the parties may exercise their right to appeal from an order of that court granting or denying interlocutory injunctive relief,” the unsigned order stated, leaving open the possibility that the high court could take up this particular case at a later date on appeal.
As for the North Carolina case, it too was denied, but Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas, authored a dissent indicating that they would have taken up the case now, given that “This case presents an exceptionally important and recurring question of constitutional law, namely, the extent of a state court’s authority to reject rules adopted by a state legislature for use in conducting federal elections.”
“There can be no doubt that this question is of great national importance. But we have not yet found an opportune occasion to address the issue,” Alito continued. “We will have to resolve this question sooner or later, and the sooner we do so, the better. This case presented a good opportunity to consider the issue, but unfortunately, the Court has again found the occasion inopportune.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh penned his own opinion in which he agreed with the majority in not intervening in the North Carolina case at this point in time so close to that state’s primary elections, but also concurred in part with Alito’s dissent and wrote that “the Court can carefully consider and decide the issue next Term after full briefing and oral argument.”