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April 13, 2023
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in arguably the most significant election rules case of the year, Moore v. Harper.
At stake were two competing visions for how federal elections should be conducted: one articulated by the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly and the other held by several organizations that challenged their state’s voting restrictions. The dispute hinged on whether State Constitutions and State Courts have any authority to regulate federal elections, with implications that could affect elections across the country.
At issue was a North Carolina law that prohibited out-of-precinct voting and same-day registration, as well as required a photo ID to cast a ballot if voters did not have one. Attorneys for organizations challenging these provisions contended that they disproportionately affected Black or Latinx citizens, while counsel for the legislature argued that states have plenary power to regulate their own elections under Article I of the U.S. Constitution without interference from state courts or constitutions.
Justice Stephen Breyer noted during oral arguments that “The question here is whether it’s just too late [before an election] to take away from state courts important decisions.” Justice Samuel Alito suggested there are limits on judicial power when it comes to interfering in legislative matters such as electoral procedures, echoing Chief Justice John Roberts’ skeptical questioning about what role courts should play in regulating federal elections.
Meanwhile, Justice Sonia Sotomayor reminded justices of Congress’ explicit authority over federal elections granted by Article I of the U.S Constitution and its power to preempt conflicting state laws regulating those same elections—a point echoed by Justice Elena Kagan in her questioning of counsel for both sides.
Attorneys representing both sides faced intense questioning from justices regarding how far states can go in dictating rules for federal elections without running afoul of constitutional limits on their power. All eyes are now on how this historic case will ultimately be decided—a decision which could set precedent for future election laws across the country for years to come.