WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a Republican petition out of North Carolina focused on the state’s congressional map, opening up review on the radical independent state legislature (ISL) theory during the Court’s next term. This theory, thus far dismissed by courts as a fringe constitutional theory, argues that state legislatures have special authority to set federal election rules, free from interference from other parts of the state government such as state courts and governors. This special authority, according to the ISL theory, means that only state legislatures can draw new congressional districts and any map passed by a state judicial system is unconstitutional. How the Court rules on this issue could shape legislatures’ power in regulating federal elections — and the checks and balances on this power — for years to come.
The ISL theory was pushed by North Carolina Republicans when state courts enacted a remedial congressional map for the 2022 elections after the previous map was struck down for being a partisan gerrymander. After an emergency application seeking to block the remedial map was denied in March, legislators asked the Court to review the full case and decide “Whether a State’s judicial branch may nullify the regulations governing [federal elections] … and replace them with regulations of the state courts’ own devising.” In granting the Republicans’ petition today, at least four justices agreed that this is an important, unresolved issue that requires the attention of the Court. The case will go on the Court’s docket next term.