“Voting rights advocates cheer unexpected Supreme Court election law wins”

I missed linking to this WaPo piece last week:

A Supreme Court term that began with dread among voting rights advocates that the justices could upend the rules governing elections is ending with relief and surprise that they have opted instead to largely uphold the status quo.

Three weeks ago, the conservative-led court astonished observers with a ruling in an Alabama case that upheld its interpretation of the Voting Rights Act. On Monday, it cited that decision in lifting a hold on a Louisiana redistricting case, raising the prospect that the state would have to draw another congressional district where Black voters have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.

And on Tuesday, it rejected the most extreme version of a novel legal theory that could have prevented state supreme courts from exercising oversight of state lawmakers’ handling of redistricting, voter ID and other policies for federal elections. Voting rights advocates welcomed the ruling, saying it reduces — while not eliminating — the opportunities for losing candidates to inject confusion into the 2024 election by appealing to state legislatures, judges or Congress for help overturning the results.

Richard Hasen, a UCLA law professor and director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project, was among those who expressed surprise at the court’s decisions on election matters this term. Voting rights didn’t make gains so much as prevent setbacks, he said.

“Preserving the status quo on this Supreme Court is a win,” he said, referring to this month’s Alabama decision. “This is a court that is not friendly to voting rights, but it’s also a court that is not going to adopt the most radical theories that would subvert democracy.”

Tuesday’s case came out of North Carolina, where the state Supreme Court initially struck down election maps drawn by Republican lawmakers as overly partisan. The GOP lawmakers asked the U.S. Supreme Court to adopt what is known as the independent state legislature theory and rule that the state justices lacked the power to consider the maps because the U.S. Constitution says election issues should be left to legislatures….

“The worst scenario was averted,” Hasen said. “The court did not adopt the view that state legislatures are this free-floating body that can engage in the most egregious forms of voter suppression and be unconstrained by state constitutions and state courts. So that’s the good news. … The bad news is that the court has reserved for itself and for federal courts a power to second-guess state court decisions.”…

“It could have been a lot worse,” said Joshua Douglas, a University of Kentucky election law professor. “But I think the story is yet to be told in terms of how this will impact the 2024 election and beyond.”

At the start of the term, Douglas and others believed the justices were preparing to issue rulings that could overturn decades of precedent governing how political districts are drawn.

“It’s a little bit strange to be breathing a sigh of relief that they didn’t go to be the most extreme form of these possible arguments,” Douglas said. “The very fact that we all thought they would demonstrates both how under-protective the Supreme Court has been when it comes to the right to vote and how totally extreme these theories were.”….

Jason Snead, the executive director of the conservative Honest Elections Project, said he had hoped the Supreme Court would embrace the independent state legislature theory but saw Tuesday’s ruling in a positive light. The decision will give conservatives a chance to get federal judges to review state court decisions on election policies that they believe are wrong, he said.

“There’s a lot of cheering going on from a lot of the folks that bring those lawsuits,” he said, referring to Democratic groups and voting rights advocates. “I think that they might be missing the forest for the trees when they see that there’s actually now a great chance that cases are going to get reviewed in federal courts.”

The Supreme Court was clear in saying there is a limit to what state courts can do, he said.

“We just don’t know exactly what the test is going to be yet,” he said. “I’m sure that both sides, the left and the right, will be probing that boundary, trying to figure out what state courts can do and how far is too far. So this issue is far from decided.”

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