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SCOTUS Election Law Decision

July 07, 2023

Asst. Prof. of Law Michael Morse C’13 told Penn Today that the Moore v. Harper ruling is “a mixed bag.”

Assistant Professor of Law Michael Morse C’13 recently spoke with Penn Today about the Supreme Court’s decision in Moore v. Harper, a momentous case with state democracy in the balance. He shared his insights on ruling and explored what it means for American democracy going forward.

An expert on voting rights, election law, and the criminal justice system, Morse also has a secondary appointment in political science. 

From Penn Today

Moore addressed the independent state legislature theory, a once-fringe legal theory about how to understand the word “legislature” in two similar constitutional provisions. In general, the Constitution directs states to administer federal elections. For example, under the Elections Clause, the “times, places, and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”

“In Moore, the independent state legislature theory came up in the context of the North Carolina state legislature’s partisan gerrymander,” Morse says. “The legislature redistricted the state’s congressional map to favor Republican candidates. A few terms ago, the Supreme Court shut down attempts to challenge partisan gerrymanders under the federal constitution. So, several groups instead challenged North Carolina’s map under their state constitution.”

The North Carolina Supreme Court embraced the plaintiffs’ theory and held that the partisan gerrymander violated the state constitution. Usually, that’s the end of the story, he says.

“Ordinarily, federal courts do not review state court decisions based on state law, so the state supreme court’s anti-gerrymandering decision would have been a victory for voting rights,” Morse says. “But the state legislators argued that the state court’s decision violated federal law, namely the Elections Clause.”

North Carolina argued that its state legislature was not subject to its own state constitution’s limits when it acted pursuant to the Elections Clause because the power to set the times, places, and manner of federal elections was assigned to the “legislature.” In the run-up to Supreme Court’s opinion, North Carolina’s argument had been roundly rejected by scholars of all stripes… . 

Read Morse’s top takaways from the SCOTUS ruling in Moore at Penn Today.