The current right-wing Supreme Court recently announced that in its next session it will hear the case of Moore v. Harper, a North Carolina case involving gerrymandered congressional district maps drawn by the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. At the heart of this case is the radical doctrine labeled the “independent state legislature” theory.
Under the independent state legislature doctrine, state legislatures have absolute control over electoral votes in presidential elections. Harvard Law Professor Emeritus Laurence Tribe and Dennis Aftergut, counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy, explain that “according to this baseless notion, state legislatures can do whatever they want in manipulating elections no matter how extreme the results — principles of voter equality and fairness be damned, along with the state’s constitution, its governor and its courts.”
In other words, if the Supreme Court adopts this theory, it could rule that a state legislature can disregard the vote of the people and award its state’s Electoral College votes to whomever it wishes. And four of the Court’s justices have already signaled support for this idea. As Thom Hartmann recently observed, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution describes the state legislature’s role in presidential elections, but “doesn’t even once mention the popular vote or the will of the people:
“Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress…”
The operative word here is “Manner.” Under the questionable independent state legislature doctrine, a state legislature can employ whatever manner it so choses in determining which candidate receives its state’s electoral votes.
Tribe and Aftergut further argue that “Going into this November’s elections, 30 state legislatures are firmly in Republican hands, including in most of the battleground states that determine presidential election outcomes. Adopting the independent state legislature theory would amount to right-wing justices making up law to create an outcome of one-party rule.”
That is why the 2022 elections for state legislators are vitally important. Some of those 30 Republican-controlled legislatures must be turned over to the Democrats in this November’s elections. If Americans who care about saving our democracy turn out in great number and elect Democratically controlled legislatures this fall in enough states to muster an Electoral College majority, then they would prevent the overturning of the 2024 presidential election under the independent state legislature doctrine.
Once again, it is up to us to spread the word and get out the vote! Democrats have so many critical issues supported by a clear majority of voters: abortion rights, climate change, gun control, voting rights and now saving democracy itself.
We must light a fire under all Americans who want our democracy to survive. We all must get involved and do everything we can to ensure that radical Republican state legislatures cannot overturn the will of the people in the 2024 presidential election.
Bruce Berlin, J.D.
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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