Category Archives: Supreme Court

Breaking: North Carolina Supreme Court Grants Rehearing in Case Striking Down Congressional Districts as a Partisan Gerrymander, Potentially Mooting U.S. Supreme Court’s Independent State Legislature Case, Moore v. Harper

On a 5-2 vote along party lines, the North Carolina Supreme Court has granted rehearing to reconsider its decision striking the state’s congressional districts as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders under the state constitution. It is also considering the state districts as well as a separate voter id case; these were each decided just before the partisan majority on the Supreme Court changed. Justice Earl in her dissents calls out the court for granting the unusual rehearing and rejecting Common Cause’s motion to dismiss; the says that this is going to further politicize the judiciary and undermine the legitimacy of the courts.

The court put the congressional districting briefing on a very quick time frame, and it raises the question whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Moore v. Harper could become moot, after a lot of briefing and argument has already been considered by the Supreme Court on the independent state legislature theory.

As I recently wrote,

Back on November 9, I wrote:

Could the Flipping of the North Carolina Supreme Court to Republican Control Moot the Moore v. Harper Case about the Independent State Legislature Doctrine?

With news that the North Carolina Supreme Court has flipped to Republican control, there is a good chance that the this court’s holding that partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution will be overturned. That ruling will allow Republicans to draw a partisan gerrymander of North Carolina’s congressional districts in time for the 2024 elections.

But it also may moot Moore v. Harper, the big “independent state legislature”/Elections Clause case. That case argues that the North Carolina’s ruling violated the power of the state’s general assembly to decide on the shape of congressional districts.

There have been a ton of amicus briefs filed (including my own) and oral arguments are set for December 7. Not clear to me how quickly a case could make it to the state Supreme Court to cause it to reconsider its partisan gerrymandering ruling, and if there might be an incentive to hold those suits to get a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on this issue.

Now, via Democracy Docket, comes this this petition for rehearing in the North Carolina Supreme Court in the remedial phase of the Harper case involving the maps. The case specifically asks for the original holding—-that the North Carolina congressional districts are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander under the state constitution—be overturned.

If that case is overturned before the Supreme Court decides Moore, it seems to me that it likely moots the case.

Indeed, I wonder if SCOTUS will delay deciding this case if the NC Supreme Court grants rehearing.

I don’t know that the NC court would do so. As Marc Elias argues, doing so would be a radical act. But it could happen and then call into question whether we will find out the vitality of the independent state legislature theory or not in Moore.

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With Petition for Rehearing Filed in (Republican-Majority) North Carolina Supreme Court, Could SCOTUS Decision in Moore v. Harper Become Moot?

Back on November 9, I wrote:

Could the Flipping of the North Carolina Supreme Court to Republican Control Moot the Moore v. Harper Case about the Independent State Legislature Doctrine?

With news that the North Carolina Supreme Court has flipped to Republican control, there is a good chance that the this court’s holding that partisan gerrymandering violates the state constitution will be overturned. That ruling will allow Republicans to draw a partisan gerrymander of North Carolina’s congressional districts in time for the 2024 elections.

But it also may moot Moore v. Harper, the big “independent state legislature”/Elections Clause case. That case argues that the North Carolina’s ruling violated the power of the state’s general assembly to decide on the shape of congressional districts.

There have been a ton of amicus briefs filed (including my own) and oral arguments are set for December 7. Not clear to me how quickly a case could make it to the state Supreme Court to cause it to reconsider its partisan gerrymandering ruling, and if there might be an incentive to hold those suits to get a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on this issue.

Now, via Democracy Docket, comes this this petition for rehearing in the North Carolina Supreme Court in the remedial phase of the Harper case involving the maps. The case specifically asks for the original holding—-that the North Carolina congressional districts are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander under the state constitution—be overturned.

If that case is overturned before the Supreme Court decides Moore, it seems to me that it likely moots the case.

Indeed, I wonder if SCOTUS will delay deciding this case if the NC Supreme Court grants rehearing.

I don’t know that the NC court would do so. As Marc Elias argues, doing so would be a radical act. But it could happen and then call into question whether we will find out the vitality of the independent state legislature theory or not in Moore.

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“Three-Judge District Courts, Direct Appeals, and Reforming the Supreme Court’s Shadow Docket”

Michael Solimine has posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming, Indiana Law Journal Supplement). Here is the abstract:

The “shadow docket” is the term recently given to a long-standing practice of the United States Supreme Court, in granting or denying requests for stays of lower court decisions, often on a hurried basis with rudimentary briefing and no oral argument, and with little if any explanation by the Court or individual Justices. Recently the practice has received unusual attention inside and outside the legal community, because of its seemingly greater use by the Court in high-profile cases, with the emergency orders sought by the federal government or state officials. Scholars have advanced various reforms to ameliorate the perceived problems of the shadow docket. One suggestion is to require suits against federal statutes and policies to be litigated before a specially convened three-judge district court, perhaps in the District of Columbia, with a direct appeal to the Court. Supporters argue that this process would result in more consistent decision making by the Court and lower courts.

This Essay critically examines the suggested reform. As its supporters acknowledge, the reform would largely replicate the procedure Congress established from 1937 to 1976 for challenges to the constitutionality of federal statutes. Congress abolished the special procedure in 1976, given opposition from the federal judiciary and others, in part due to it being perceived as unnecessary, and burdening the Court with mandatory appeals. The Essay first evaluates the recent suggestion considering the prior experience, an evaluation that includes an empirical analysis of Supreme Court decisions under the earlier process. It then considers proposals to establish exclusive jurisdiction in the federal courts in the District of Columbia, which would reduce forum shopping but deprive the Court of the benefits of percolation of multiple suits. The Essay concludes that the suggested reform could ameliorate some of the reforms of the shadow docket, but should be undertaken with an appreciation of the decidedly mixed past experience with similar institutional arrangements.

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“Supreme Court Puts Off Considering State Laws Curbing Internet Platforms”

NYT:

The Supreme Court asked the Biden administration on Monday for its views on whether the Constitution allows Florida and Texas to prevent large social media companies from removing posts based on the views they express.

The practical effect of the move was to put off a decision on whether to hear two major First Amendment challenges to the states’ laws for at least several months. If the court ends up granting review, as seems likely, it will hear arguments no earlier than October and will probably not issue a decision until next year.

The two state laws, which are similar but not identical, were largely the product of conservative frustration. The laws’ supporters said the measures were needed to combat what they called Silicon Valley censorship. In particular, they objected to the decisions of some platforms to bar President Donald J. Trump after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

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“Supreme Court Poised to Reconsider Key Tenets of Online Speech”

NYT:

For years, giant social networks like FacebookTwitter and Instagram have operated under two crucial tenets.

The first is that the platforms have the power to decide what content to keep online and what to take down, free from government oversight. The second is that the websites cannot be held legally responsible for most of what their users post online, shielding the companies from lawsuits over libelous speech, extremist content and real-world harm linked to their platforms.

Now the Supreme Court is poised to reconsider those rules, potentially leading to the most significant reset of the doctrines governing online speech since U.S. officials and courts decided to apply few regulations to the web in the 1990s.

On Friday, the Supreme Court is expected to discuss whether to hear two cases that challenge laws in Texas and Florida barring online platforms from taking down certain political content. Next month, the court is scheduled to hear a case that questions Section 230, a 1996 statute that protects the platforms from liability for the content posted by their users.

The cases could eventually alter the hands-off legal position that the United States has largely taken toward online speech, potentially upending the businesses of TikTok, Twitter, Snap and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.

“It’s a moment when everything might change,” said Daphne Keller, a former lawyer for Google who directs a program at Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center.

The cases are part of a growing global battle over how to handle harmful speech online. In recent years, as Facebook and other sites attracted billions of users and became influential communications conduits, the power they wielded came under increasing scrutiny. Questions arose over how the social networks might have unduly affected electionsgenocides, wars and political debates.

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Kate Shaw on oral argument in Moore v. Harper

Over at Just Security, Kate Shaw has a piece entitled, “Oral Argument in Moore v. Harper and the Perils of Finding ‘Compromise’ on the Independent State Legislature Theory.” From it:

[A] majority may be willing to sign onto some version of the theory, even if a more circumscribed one. Depending on what that looks like, the theory could have important implications for future elections—both congressional and presidential. The “blast radius,” as Neal Katyal repeatedly called the potential effects of the Moore decision during Wednesday’s argument, appears unlikely to be as wide as many initially feared—and as the North Carolina legislators are still seeking—and the decision might not immediately “wreak havoc in the administration of elections across the nation,” in the words of Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar. But, in the effort to find a “middle ground” or the like, the Court may nevertheless embrace some version of the ISLT. That is both alarming in its own right, and could invite future challenges that allow the Court to go still further.

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Turning Rehnquist’s concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore into a consensus majority standard

During oral argument in Moore v. Harper today, one could be forgiven to forget that Chief Justice William Rehnquist passed away nearly two decades ago and is not currently sitting on the court. He was invoked more than a dozen times. His concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore, an opinion much maligned in the bulk of academic commentary on the topic and untouched by the Supreme Court for many years, seemed to attract the attention of the Court as a “middle way.”

There’s a lot to unpack from this development alone.

Continue reading Turning Rehnquist’s concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore into a consensus majority standard
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What Difference Would It Make If the Supreme Court in the Moore v. Harper Case Embraced the Bush v. Gore Concurrence Rather Than a Full-Throated Independent State Legislature Theory?

In my earlier recap of today’s oral argument in Moore v. Harper (transcript here), I suggested that the middle ground position that the three Justices in the middle might embrace would be bad but not awful compared to the position embraced by Alito, Gorsuch and Thomas. I want to unpack that here, in the context of all the talk at oral argument about sky high deference to state court rulings etc. And this involves understanding the position of the concurrence in Bush v. Gore and the position of the court in the earlier Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board case.

Under the vision of ISLT embraced by the Legislators’ today through David Thompson’s argument, a state court has no role to play in applying the state constitution to limit a state legislature’s actions in federal elections. Even assuming the state was applying the state constitution exactly correctly—as Thompson conceded the Court did for purposes of making his argument—the state violates ISLT. There is no role for the state constitution. So imagine a state rules (as PA’s Supreme Court did) that the state constitution’s provision protecting free and fair elections required extending the deadline set by the Legislature by 3 days for the receipt of absentee ballots during a pandemic. Under this version of ISLT, this rule cannot apply to the federal candidates on the ballot. So late arriving ballots would count for state elections but not federal elections. (It would also seem to call into question all of the rulings of state election administrators interpreting state statutes, as I argue in my amicus brief, though Thompson tried to distinguish such cases as oral argument: “First of all, our theory does not relate to the interpretation of statutes.”)

In contrast is the approach that seemed to be floated by Justice Kavanaugh, and to a lesser extent the Chief Justice and Justice Barrett: that of the Bush v. Gore concurrence. Recall in Bush v. Gore the majority held that the recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court violated the equal protection clause because it treated some voters as worse than others. The Rehnquist concurrence, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas) held that when a state court engages in grossly unfair interpretation of a state election statute, that could usurp the power of the state legislature. (In Bush v. Gore, it was the legislature’s power under the parallel Article II authority for presidential elections, not the Article I, section 4 authority for congressional elections.) This was kind of the theory that Neal Katyal for the Common Cause respondents was arguing as a backup. There are going to be some really crazy interpretations of state law that would be unconstitutional. (There was some discussion if there’s a different standard in statutory cases like Bush v. Gore or constitutional standards under Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board. I don’t think that there’s any real holding in Palm Beach County because that case was a remand for more information, and no holding that a crazy interpretation of the state constitution necessarily usurps the legislature’s power unconstitutionally.)

Under this alternative theory, state court retains a role in applying a state constitution to limit what a state legislature does in regulating federal elections. But when it engages in a really crazy interpretation of a state constitution, then the Supreme Court can step in. To return to the example of the extension of 3 days for the return of absentee ballots during the election, the question would be whether such an interpretation of the state constitution—given the text of the statutory provision and given the history of application of the statute—is so novel and crazy as to become unconstitutional.

This version of ISLT would still be bad: we would have the Supreme Court second-guessing state supreme court rulings in highly charged election cases sometimes during contentious presidential elections. That’s why it’s bad. But it is not as awful as cutting courts out completely of the business of protecting voters’ constitutional rights under state constitutions in federal elections. That theory would lead to chaos in the courts, as my amicus brief shows.

Now I do think that there is a better limiting principle here, which is kind of parallel to the crazy interpretation argument: it’s a due process problem. Guy says that what you call it doesn’t matter much where this theory is found by I disagree for two reasons. First the due process clause prevents arbitrary and capricious government action. That’s the appropriate standard to use to decide if the state court has gone way too far. That kind of power would not be bad if the Supreme Court applied it rarely and judiciously. (It’s an interesting question whether it should have applied in Bush v. Gore. My view now is that this was a close call, and that the mainproblem in Bush v. Gore was the failure to remand for a revised recount under a non-arbitrary standard). The due process standard us extremely deferential. Further, the theory would apply to both federal and state elections. So one would not have a ruling that would apply only to federal races on the ballot but not state races.

One final point: if the Court adopts the Bush v. Gore concurrence-version of ISLT in this case, it’s not clear who wins the case given Thompson’s concession. Thompson did not argue that the NC Supreme Court ruling was crazy. Remember, he says any ruling on constitutional grounds is impermissible. So a 6-Justice majority siding with Common Cause? Or a 3-3-3 split where the 3 Justices in the middle decide whether or not the ruling of the NC Supreme Court was crazy? Or asking for more briefing? (One problem with that last course is that the case could become moot. The new Republican majority on the NC Supreme Court is sure to disavow the partisan gerrymandering theory at some point down the line.)

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(Rick Hasen) Live-Blogging the Supreme Court’s Oral Arguments in the Moore v. Harper (Independent State Legislature); Now UPDATED with Analysis and Reason to Think Court Will Reject Maximalist Version of ISLT

[This post has been updated.]

UPDATE:

After almost three hours of oral argument, a divided Supreme Court appeared searching for a middle ground to hold that in really egregious cases state courts can violate the federal constitution when they apply state constitutions (or potentially to interpret state statutes) to limit a state legislature in regulating federal elections. Such a ruling would inject federal courts into delicate state election law disputes, sometimes in the midst of elections in extreme cases. But it would not go so far as to turn every state court election decision (or election administrator interpretation) into a new federal lawsuit. It would be a bad ruling, but not an awful one.

Here’s how the Justices broke down at argument: there are three Justices who absolutely reject the independent state legislature theory. These are the three liberal justices: Jackson, Kagan, and Sotomayor. There are three Justices who appear to accept the doctrine pretty broadly: Alito, Gorsuch, and Thomas. So that leaves the Chief Justice, and Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh. They all seemed to be looking for a middle ground, one that would impose some meaningful limits on state supreme court opinions going off the rails in purporting to interpret state constitutions but override completely a state’s rules for setting the time, place, and manner for federal elections.

On the one hand, these pivotal Justices don’t like the maximalist opinion of the Legislators, but they see that there must be some limit for an out-of-control state court. They they could well adopt something like Chief Justice Rehnquist’s concurrence in Bush v. Gore: that sometimes a state court goes so far in interpreting a state law (in that case a state statute, in this case a state constitution) applying to federal elections that it becomes unconstitutional. Given the Legislators’ concession in this case (that Don Verrilli hammered home in this oral argument) that for purposes of this argument, the state supreme court correctly applied the state constitution, then these Justices should have to side with the state supreme court reining in the partisan gerrymandering in this case. What they will actually do is another question because oral argument is not a perfect predictor of what the Court will do.

In my view, the way to deal with this issue of where to draw the line is not through the elections clause but through the Due Process Clause. The leading case here is an 11th Circuit 1995 case, Roe v. Alabama, which says that sometimes a state court decision is so arbitrary and capricious that it is not really engaged in judicial review. That would present a very high standard to meet, but one that could be met in extreme circumstances. Going this route, would not cause a flood of new election litigation that would come (as I argue in my amicus brief) with the Legislators’ maximialist views of the independent state legislature doctrine.

Below you will find my notes on the oral argument as it was happening:

Continue reading (Rick Hasen) Live-Blogging the Supreme Court’s Oral Arguments in the Moore v. Harper (Independent State Legislature); Now UPDATED with Analysis and Reason to Think Court Will Reject Maximalist Version of ISLT
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