June 28, 2023

NM officials respond to U.S. Supreme Court redistricting decision

Bill Moree

U.S. Supreme Court Washington D.C. 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected on Tuesday an attempt to exempt state legislatures from federal judicial review for redistricting issues.

The Supreme Court rejected the “independent state legislature theory” in the Moore V. Harper (2003) case on a 6-3 vote.

The theory states that state legislatures have “exclusive and independent authority” to draw federal congressional maps” based on the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause, the opinion states.

“As an election official deeply committed to upholding the principles of democracy, I am thrilled by today’s Supreme Court decision in Moore vs. Harper,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said. “The so-called ‘independent state legislature theory’ was absurd from the beginning and it’s good to see the Supreme Court reject such a reckless idea that would have had horrible consequences for our democracy.”

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also supported the Supreme Court’s decision in the case.

“Gov. Lujan Grisham applauds the United States Supreme Court’s decision today that strengthened the democratic process in our country, and solidified what we already knew: the obscure ‘independent state legislature’ doctrine was ill-conceived,” governor’s office spokeswoman Caroline Sweeney said. “The Court did the right thing noting that federal courts must be mindful of the nuances of state election laws. The governor believes if the court upheld the long-dormant doctrine, it would have done serious damage to future elections at a time when our country is already deeply divided.”

Speaker of the House Rep. Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, praised the ruling.

“This ruling upholds vital checks and balances in our election systems. But the fact that we have seen politically-motivated attempts to suppress voters and overturn the results of free and fair elections across our country underscores the need to safeguard our democracy,” Martínez said. “I am grateful that we successfully passed the New Mexico Voting Rights Act this year, allowing our state to shine as a North Star for others to follow in protecting the rights of voters and the security of our elections.”

The case involved an interpretation of the Elections Clause that would have given an exception to legislatures from state judicial review.

“State courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause,” U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. stated in the Court’s majority opinion. “But federal courts must not abandon their own duty to exercise judicial review. In interpreting state law in this area, state courts may not so exceed the bounds of ordinary judicial review as to unconstitutionally intrude upon the role specifically reserved to state legislatures by Article I, Section 4, of the Federal Constitution.”

The advocacy group Common Cause also celebrated the ruling.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Harper v Moore, a case based on Common Cause’s successful case to overturn gerrymandering in North Carolina, is a victory for voters,” Heather Ferguson, Common Cause States Director, said. “The Supreme Court made clear that state courts and state constitutions serve as a critical check against abuses of power by legislators who seek to silence voters through gerrymandering or voter suppression for partisan purposes.”

The ruling affects New Mexico by giving state courts the authority to decide on redistricting maps’ constitutionality, Ferguson said. 

“It is very relevant here as there is currently a Republican challenge to the maps drawn by the (state) legislature pending in the (state) Supreme Court, which would have been denied jurisdiction had the decision gone the other way,” Ferguson said.

The case originated after North Carolina’s General Assembly drafted its maps for the regular redistricting following the 2020 decennial census.

The maps were challenged in North Carolina courts as being gerrymandered, claims which were deemed “nonjusticiable” under the North Carolina State Constitution, but the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed that ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholds the North Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling.

The opinion was joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett M. Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson with Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch dissenting.

NM Political Report reached out to state House and Senate Republicans as well as to state Senate Democrats who all did not respond prior to publication.