Court Battles

Supreme Court denies GOP requests to halt new maps in NC, Pennsylvania

 

The Supreme Court on Monday rebuffed Republicans who had asked the justices to block state court rulings that tossed GOP-drawn voting maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The two separate rulings left intact state court decisions in which judicially endorsed maps were substituted for those drawn by state legislatures, handing temporary wins to Democrats as court fights play out across the country over the once-per-decade process of drawing new congressional and legislative voting districts following the U.S. Census.

As is typical, the justices did not sign the orders. In the North Carolina case, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote an opinion concurring in the court’s decision to deny the request. Also in that case, the court’s three staunchest conservative justices — Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch — wrote in dissent.

Top Republican lawmakers in North Carolina asked the Supreme Court last month to halt a state court ruling that struck down new GOP-drawn voting districts as “unlawful partisan gerrymanders” and replaced the Republican map with one drawn by outside experts.

The Republican challengers urged the justices to find that the Constitution’s “Elections Clause” gives state legislatures precedence over state courts and executive branch officials in determining the manner in which federal elections are carried out in their state.

Kavanaugh, in his concurrence, made clear that his vote against the GOP lawmakers’ request was guided by the fast-approaching midterm elections, not the underlying merits of their claim, which he said the court would need to address soon, perhaps as early as next term. 

“The issue is almost certain to keep arising until the Court definitively resolves it. Therefore, if the Court receives petitions for certiorari raising the issue, I believe that the Court should grant certiorari in an appropriate case — either in this case from North Carolina or in a similar case from another State,” Kavanaugh wrote. “If the Court does so, the Court can carefully consider and decide the issue next Term after full briefing and oral argument.” 

But Kavanaugh, in denying the GOP request, noted that “this Court has repeatedly ruled that federal courts ordinarily should not alter state election laws in the period close to an election.”

Alito, in a dissent that was joined by two fellow conservatives, made clear his view that the GOP challengers in the North Carolina case would “likely … prevail on the merits if review were granted.” He agreed with Kavanaugh that the issue would need to be resolved “sooner or later,” and bemoaned that “unfortunately the Court has again found the occasion inopportune.” 

Like the North Carolina dispute, the Pennsylvania case raised a similar question of which branch of state government has final say over how federal elections are governed. 

The challenge was brought by a group of Republican voters after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, by a bare majority, voted to swap out the map crafted by the GOP-controlled legislature in favor of one drawn by a political scientist from Stanford that purported to be fairer. 

The justices’ order in the Pennsylvania case was issued without comment or noted dissent. The order referred the case to a three-judge court and held open the possibility that parties could raise additional appeals in the dispute.

Updated at 6:24 p.m.

Tags Brett Kavanaugh Clarence Thomas Gerrymandering Neil Gorsuch North Carolina Pennsylvania Redistricting Samuel Alito Supreme Court ruling

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