The Supreme Court recently allowed to stand congressional maps already been approved by state courts in Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
The decision gives Democrats an advantage in the 2022 elections in those two states, which politically are closely divided.
State courts earlier had ruled that previous maps for congressional elections had been warped by partisan gerrymandering. By issuing their ruling, the Supreme Court rejected requests by Republicans to restore maps approved by Republican-controlled state legislatures.
Voting lines were tossed out and replaced by courts in both states after stiff challenges by Democrats.
Under the new, court-imposed maps, Democrat candidates are likely to gain more seats than they would have under the legislature-approved versions.
The court’s three most conservative members — Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Samuel Alito Jr. — said they would have blocked the North Carolina map because it is likely that the State Supreme Court had overridden the state legislature and violated the Constitution.
“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,” wrote Justice Alito.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh also filed a short concurring opinion agreeing that the case posed a substantial question.
After the North Carolina State Supreme Court refused to block the ruling, allowing the congressional maps to stand, Republican officials asked the U.S. Supreme Court to step in.
In the case of Pennsylvania, the State Supreme Court adopted a map that appears to give Democrats eight seats and Republicans nine relatively safe seats, according to political analysis.
Each party currently holds nine House seats. However, Pennsylvania will lose a seat next year due to reapportionment caused by the 2020 census.
A Republican candidate for the House and voters sued state officials in federal court to challenge the new map. In both the North Carolina and Pennsylvania emergency application cases, applications relied on the Elections Clause of the Constitution, which states “the times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”
The challengers argued in their application that the state legislature had the sole responsibility for drawing up congressional districts and emphasized that state courts have no role to play.
“The question presented here,” wrote the North Carolina Republicans, “goes to the very core of this nation’s democratic republic: what entity has the constitutional authority to set the rules of the road for federal elections.”
The North Carolina Supreme Court rejected the Republican’s argument saying it was “repugnant to the sovereignty of states, the authority of state constitutions and the independence of state courts and would produce absurd and dangerous consequences.”
Four U.S. Supreme Court justices suggested that they are sympathetic to doctrine. Three of the opinions issued in October 2020 endorsed it.
“The provisions of the federal Constitution conferring on state legislatures, not state courts, the authority to make rules governing federal elections would be meaningless if a state court could override the rules adopted by the legislature simply by claiming that a state constitutional provision gave the courts the authority to make whatever rules it thought appropriate for the conduct of a fair election,” wrote Justice Alito, along with Justices Thomas and Gorsuch wrote in a statement when the court refused to fast-track review whether or not the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could alter deadlines for mail-in ballots that was set by the legislature.
Justice Gorsuch, along with Justice Kavanaugh, wrote a concurring opinion that said, “the Constitution provides that state legislatures — not federal judges, not state judges, not state governors, not other state officials — bear primary responsibility for setting election rules.”
In another concurring opinion, Justice Kavanaugh wrote that “under the U.S. Constitution, the state courts do not have a blank check to rewrite state election laws for federal elections.”