Publish Date:June 30, 2023
News Roundup: The Supreme Court, Partisan Election Control, and U.S. Democracy
Amid a string of momentous decisions this week — ending affirmative action in college admissions, striking down President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, siding with a religious postal worker, and limiting LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections — the U.S. Supreme Court this week also rejected a dangerously legal theory that would have upended American democracy.
The fringe theory, known as the independent state legislature theory, is based on a radical interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause that in recent years has been elevated by far-right election deniers and partisan actors seeking new ways to tilt the elector playing field.
- The case before the Supreme Court, Moore v. Harper, centered on redistricting in North Carolina, where Republican lawmakers invoked the theory to argue that the state supreme court had no authority to strike down illegally gerrymandered congressional maps.
- Trump allies and election deniers had also used the theory to justify their attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, arguing that certain measures expanding voting access that year were illegitimate — and that state legislatures could unilaterally reverse outcomes, including by appointing fake electors.
- In April, a new conservative majority on the North Carolina supreme court overturned its past ruling, clearing the way for a new round of partisan gerrymandering and leading to some expectations that the U.S. Supreme Court would drop the case.
- But in a 6–3 ruling, the court rejected the theory and reaffirmed that state legislatures do not have unchecked power to set election rules and that they are still subject to judicial review. One of the three justices who dissented was Clarence Thomas, who refused to recuse himself from the case despite his wife Ginni Thomas’ support of efforts to overturn 2020.
The decision was a victory for democracy, but as many experts have pointed out, it still leaves the door open for future election-related challenges in federal court and it didn’t define a standard for when state courts might have “transgress[ed] the ordinary bounds of judicial review.” And conservative state legislatures are still home to efforts to exert greater partisan control over election administration.
- “In pockets around the country,” CNN reported this week, “Republican officials are working to change who oversees elections in ways that critics say could shift the balance of power to their party or lead to partisan stalemates when high-stakes Senate and presidential contests are on the ballot next year.”
- “The moves range from requiring legislative approval of court settlements in election-related lawsuits to creating paths for taking over local election offices,” reported the Associated Press, highlighting recent measures in North Carolina and Texas in particular.
- We’ve been investigating the efforts of activists and partisan lawmakers to consolidate election administration power, and have obtained documents revealing more about the influence networks behind right-wing election bills. We’ve also unearthed emails related to the restructuring of local elections boards in Georgia — read more about our investigations here.
Other Stories We’re Following
Election Denial and Voting Rights
- Three candidates who have shown distrust in elections picked to replace state senator who resigned (Arizona Republic)
- Wisconsin Republicans try to force a vote on the reappointment of a nonpartisan election leader (Associated Press)
- ‘It warrants a criminal investigation’: Prominent former prosecutor seeks probe of Cyber Ninjas (Arizona Republic)
- Supreme Court unfreezes Louisiana redistricting case that could boost Black voting power before 2024 (Associated Press)
- In Philadelphia, rejecting misdated mail ballots disproportionately affects communities of color (Votebeat)
- Arizona elections would have fewer rules under Secretary of State Adrian Fontes’ new manual (Votebeat)
In the States
- Push to tie Medicaid to work is making a comeback. Georgia is at forefront. (Washington Post)
- We analyzed more than 300 DeSantis appointments. Here’s what we found (Tampa Bay Times)
- DeSantis agency sent $92 million in covid relief funds to donor-backed project (Washington Post)
- Justice Department says new Florida law restricting Chinese land ownership is unconstitutional (Politico)
- Texas wrests power from local governments with sweeping new law (Bloomberg CityLab)
- Impeachment investigators look into Texas attorney general’s real-estate spree (Wall Street Journal)
- Inmates are dying in stifling Texas prisons, but the state seldom acknowledges heat as a cause of death (Texas Tribune)
- U.S. dark-money fund spends millions to back Republican attorneys general (Guardian)
- Federal judge blocks Florida from enforcing ban on minors attending drag shows (Politico)
- In some states with laws on transgender bathrooms, officials may not know how they will be enforced (Associated Press)
- States passed a record number of transgender laws. Here’s what they say (New York Times)
- Transgender care bans for Kentucky, Tennessee minors partly blocked (Washington Post)
- Keller ISD passes policies targeting bathrooms, pronouns for transgender students (Dallas Morning News)
- ‘Maybe the cruelty is the point’: NC lawmakers ban gender-affirming care for transgender minors following tense floor debate (NC Newsline)
- Christian legal nonprofit funds U.S. anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion organizations (Guardian)
Abortion and Reproductive Rights
- Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs issues executive order to limit prosecutions related to abortion (Arizona Republic)
- Crisis pregnancy center warning quietly removed from state abortion info website (Nevada Current)
- Federal judge won’t stop NC’s 12-week abortion ban from starting July 1 (NC Newsline)
Threats to Education
- Texas A&M University System starts “ethics and compliance review” of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts ahead of ban (Texas Tribune)
- How parents outraged by library books, diversity initiatives and sex ed transformed one New Jersey school board (ProPublica)
- Trump and DeSantis are among the 2024 GOP hopefuls set to appear at the Moms for Liberty gathering (Associated Press)
Government Transparency and Public Records Law
- Sunshine Law violations by AG’s office under Josh Hawley will cost Missouri $240K (Missouri Independent)
- Judge says DPS must release documents related to Uvalde shooting response (Texas Tribune)
- Top NIH official advised Covid scientists that he uses personal email to evade FOIA (Intercept)
- Documents reveal Eric Adams sent migrants to Florida, Texas and China (Politico)
- Ron DeSantis says he’ll end birthright citizenship as president (Miami Herald)
- North Carolina GOP is cracking down on the Black sheriffs who stood up to ICE (Bolts)
Trump Accountability and Jan. 6 Investigations
- Audio of Trump suggests he discussed classified Iran document (New York Times)
- It’s not just Mar-a-Lago: Trump charges highlight his New Jersey life (Washington Post)
- Top Trump campaign aide Susie Wiles met numerous times with special counsel investigators in documents probe (CNN)
- ‘Their plan is to literally kill people’: Senate Democrats reveal new details about intel warnings ahead of January 6 attack (CNN)
- Georgia elections official to speak to federal prosecutors probing Trump’s efforts to undo 2020 loss (Associated Press)
- Justice Dept. asking about 2020 fraud claims as well as fake electors (Washington Post)
- Former Trump campaign official cooperating with special counsel in 2020 election interference probe (CNN)