Supreme Court seeking clarity on jurisdiction in North Carolina election law clash

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked for additional briefing on whether it still has jurisdiction in a major election law clash involving North Carolina’s congressional map that has weighty stakes for American democracy.

The justices last year agreed to hear an appeal from the North Carolina Supreme Court in the case, Moore v. Harper, but the state court’s new Republican majority agreed to rehear the dispute early last month.

The U.S. Supreme Court justices want to know if they can still move ahead, giving them an off ramp if they determine they no longer have jurisdiction.

The parties are due to submit briefs explaining their views by March 20.

Republican state lawmakers want to reverse a North Carolina Supreme Court decision that ordered a new congressional map for the state after finding the GOP version’s partisan gerrymander violated the state constitution.

More broadly, the lawmakers promote a sweeping argument, known as the independent state legislature theory, that would give near-total authority to state legislatures in drawing congressional maps and settling other election issues.

They believe the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause vests authority for regulating federal elections exclusively in state legislatures, and the courts and state constitutions have no power to block those decisions.

The state Supreme Court justices, who are elected, had ruled against the GOP lawmakers and ordered a new map. After Republicans took control of the court in the midterm elections, however, the court on Feb. 3 granted a request from the GOP lawmakers to rehear the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review decisions by a state’s highest court implicating the federal Constitution that are deemed final judgments.

The justices asked the parties and the Justice Department, which sided against the Republican lawmakers, to provide additional briefing on whether the rehearing decision strips the U.S. Supreme Court of jurisdiction.

During oral arguments in December, the justices had appeared to search for a middle path in the underlying dispute, with some of the court’s conservatives appearing to favor preserving some role for state courts in regulating federal elections.

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