WASHINGTON — Today, the US Supreme Court affirmed the role of state court judicial review in a major victory for checks and balances and the constitutional rights of voters. The Court rejected a state legislature’s exclusive and independent authority over federal elections and was resolute in not expanding that authority through the dangerous “Independent State Legislature” theory.
The case, Moore v. Harper, involved the “independent state legislature theory” (ISLT), which suggested that state courts did not have the power to review actions of state legislatures relating to federal elections. The case that brought the issue to the US Supreme Court — Harper v. Hall — raised concerns around the extreme partisan gerrymandering of North Carolina’s congressional map. The case was overturned by the North Carolina Supreme Court on April 28, 2023, but the question of ISLT at the US Supreme Court remained. In today’s decision, the Court rejected the ISLT.
“Every year, voters face attacks on their rights from state legislatures seeking more power for politicians over the will of the people,” said Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Today’s decision is a major victory for our democracy because it rejects the dangerous idea that state legislatures have free rein to determine the rules for elections in their states. We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the ISLT and affirm the voice of voters.”
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“For 233 years and counting, no court has ever found that state election laws are unconstrained by state constitutional requirements, because this is a fantasy that is antithetical to our system of government,” said Fair Elections Center’s litigation director Jon Sherman. “Finally, the US Supreme Court has buried this extremist theory once and for all.”
Last year, the League of Women Voters of the United States and League chapters from all 50 states and the District of Columbia filed an amicus brief in Moore v. Harper, focusing on the massive implications of the ISLT for elections across the country, voters and election workers, and American democracy itself. The League is represented by Fair Elections Center and O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
Quotes from state (and DC) League representatives:
“This decision is vitally important to states like Alabama, where our legislature routinely endeavors to pass laws which would suppress voting rights and make it even more difficult for eligible citizens to vote.”
Kathy Jones, president, LWV of Alabama
“Elections should reflect the will of the people, not the desires of politicians. California voters are now assured that the votes they cast in federal elections will not be subverted by politicians that seek power for themselves and their political parties.”
Carol Moon Goldberg, president, Board of Directors, LWV of California
“In our democracy, the will of the people is most important — not the will of politicians. This decision ensures that checks and balances provided by our judicial system remain instead of allowing politicians to ignore voter intent. Colorado voters deserve to have their voices heard, not ignored and overturned by politicians.”
Beth Hendrix, executive director, LWV of Colorado
“In the past several years, our legislature has passed laws that have restricted voting for citizens here in Iowa. We are extremely pleased that the most recent US Supreme Court decision will provide protection for elections in the future with the appropriate checks and balances which will ensure our democratic principles.”
Terese Grant and Holly Oppelt, co-presidents, LWV of Iowa
“Kansas voters’ voices are protected by this decision to reject the ISLT. Politicians should not have unchecked power to set election rules for voters in their state. The ISLT would have been a recipe for more voter suppression and partisan election tampering. This ruling is a win for the principle of ‘one person, one vote.’”
Martha Pint, president, LWV of Kansas
“Louisiana voters welcome this decision for reinforcing appropriate checks and balances and standards of review in election law administration. It is unhealthy for democracy when one branch of government seeks to control election administration, and particularly to thwart federal election protections. We call upon our legislators to pass laws that protect our elections and our voting rights — and we look forward to fairer redistricting maps soon!”
M. Christian Green, president, LWV of Louisiana
"Maryland previously recognized the importance of an appropriate balance of power among the branches of government when the state’s highest court ordered that a legislatively adopted congressional map be re-drawn to ensure fair representation. By rejecting the 'independent state legislature' theory, the US Supreme Court has taken a step in the right direction to protect voters in Maryland and elsewhere."
Linda Kohn, president, LWV of Maryland
“The rejection of the Independent State Legislature Theory (“ISLT”) by the US Supreme Court, which would have allowed politicians nearly unrestricted authority to thwart the will of Massachusetts voters in federal elections, is a significant victory for preserving our democracy. Checks and balances, the underpinning of our democracy, are well established in Massachusetts and will continue to serve the people of our Commonwealth into the future, thanks to this ruling.”
Elizabeth Foster-Nolan, co-president, Marie Gauthier, co-president and Patricia Comfort, executive director, LWV of Massachusetts
“Once again, League advocacy makes a difference for Minnesota voters! This ruling reinforces the importance of acting on our mission to defend democracy, to ensure that no one branch of government can mute the voices of all. We must remain united to ensure fair maps, equal representation, and one person, one vote.”
Michelle Witte, executive director, LWV of Minnesota
“We applaud this Supreme Court decision which affirms the core belief in the role of checks and balances in our democracy. In current and previous litigation, the Missouri League of Women Voters has had to turn to the courts to reject election restrictions that violate our constitutional right to vote in Missouri.”
Marilyn McLeod, president, LWV of Missouri
“This decision is a win for democracy and will hopefully spur interest in a redistricting commission for Nebraska.”
MaryLee Moulton, co-president, LWV of Nebraska
“This decision brings us one step closer to our goal of fair maps and maybe even an independent redistricting commission in New Hampshire. The SCOTUS decision gives the League and New Hampshire voters hope.”
Liz Tentarelli, president, LWV of New Hampshire
“We are heartened that this decision reaffirmed the power of voters over fringe political theories and politicians. Now we return to the essential work of ensuring voting rights are protected at all levels. In New Jersey, this means fighting for the passage of same-day voter registration, a state voting rights act, and more inclusive democracy for all.”
Jesse Burns, executive director, LWV of New Jersey
“The New York State League was very pleased to see the decision in Moore v. Harper as New Yorkers continue to rely on our state courts to vigorously enforce the anti-gerrymandering provision of the state Constitution. Redistricting must be accomplished with the voters in mind, not to benefit the elected officials. Today’s decision is a win for voters everywhere.”
Nancy Rosenthal, president, LWV of New York State
“This ruling by the US Supreme Court assures that the votes of North Dakotans and all other citizens cannot be erased by state legislators. The League of Women Voters of North Dakota will continue to advocate for state and federal efforts to protect voters’ access to the polls and ensure that every vote is counted.”
Barbara Headrick, president, LWV of North Dakota
“This decision is a victory for voters and our democratic institutions. Pennsylvanians can now be assured that the independence of our judiciary is protected.”
Meghan Pierce, executive director, LWV of Pennsylvania
“This decision is a reaffirmation of the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, and the protection of voters’ rights.”
Nancy Williams, president, LWV of South Carolina
“The League of Women Voters of Tennessee is extremely pleased by the Supreme Court ruling in Moore v. Harper. Their sound rejection of the Independent State Legislature Theory is a clear statement that there are limits to the power that lawmakers have regarding voting and elections. This decision pushes back at legislative overreach that could potentially violate the voter protections that are essential to our democracy. It is a true win for all voters.”
Debby Gould, president, LWV of Tennessee
“This ruling is a significant win for democracy. With this resounding rejection of the ‘independent state legislature theory,’ the proper checks and balances by the other branches of the state government on what election laws the legislature can pass will remain in place. This ruling continues to allow voting rights organizations like the League of Women Voters of Texas to fight in the legislature and the courts for free and fair access to the ballot for every eligible Texas voter.”
Joyce LeBombard, president, LWV of Texas
“This ruling rejecting the ‘independent state theory’ allows the candle of democracy to burn brighter. We are encouraged too that the work we have done on nonpartisan redistricting in Virginia will be protected and that the will of the people will continue to be heard.”
Joan Porte, president, LWV of Virginia
“We believe in a people-powered democracy, which is why DC continues to fight for statehood. We celebrate this decision that upholds checks and balances and blocks politicians from choosing their voters. Instead it ensures that people choose their elected officials. 700,000 DC residents would like that same right and be able to choose two Senators and a voting House member to represent us in Congress.”
Barbara Zia, president, LWV of the District of Columbia
Read the opinion here.
The Latest from the League
The League of Women Voters and Fair Elections Center released the following statements after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the Moore v. Harper case.
LWV of the United States and League chapters from all 50 states and DC filed an amicus brief in the Moore v. Harper case before the Supreme Court. The case concerns the so-called “independent state legislature theory” (ISLT), which, if adopted, would have far-reaching implications for the future of American democracy.
On February 3, 2023, the North Carolina Supreme Court voted to re-hear Harper v. Hall, a case concerning redistricting. The North Carolina Supreme Court’s upcoming decision could upend a pending case at the Supreme Court that threatens our current system of political checks and balances.