US Supreme Court affirms state courts’ authority over election rules

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The US Supreme Court has affirmed state courts’ power to review election rules set by state lawmakers, in a case that some feared would disrupt how polls are run across the country.

In a 6-3 decision, the court on Tuesday upheld a North Carolina supreme court decision that had rejected the state’s congressional map as unconstitutional gerrymandering aimed at favouring Republican candidates.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, which was backed by both liberal and conservative justices. Three of the court’s conservative justices, including Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, dissented.

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature had brought the case in an attempt to curb state courts’ oversight of the election maps drawn up by lawmakers, arguing that under the US Constitution, state lawmakers, not judges, are chiefly responsible for setting election rules.

It ignited a debate about state courts’ jurisdiction over federal elections, as the legislature urged the Supreme Court to set a precedent giving state lawmakers expansive authority over how federal polls are run.

Some critics warned a broad decision in favour of North Carolina would have curbed courts’ power to ascertain the validity of elections and left state legislatures unchecked. 

The decision addressed wrangling over state electoral maps and “gerrymandering” across the US, in which political districts are drawn to benefit a particular party. It has historically been a fraught legal and political battle, contending with issues of race and voting rights.

In a brief joined by 19 senators, Amy Klobuchar, the Democratic senator from Minnesota who chairs the Senate rules and administration committee overseeing federal elections, said she had “seen first-hand how state legislative efforts to restrict voting rights and limit opportunities for people to cast a ballot can pose the risks to individual liberty that” the US Constitution’s drafters had feared. 

In a brief supporting North Carolina, the Republican National Committee said: “The constitution itself, along with federal statutes, already impose multiple safeguards that would otherwise prevent a state legislature from overturning valid federal election results.” 

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