OPINION: Moore v. Harper is a threat to American democracy


Megan Koch, Opinion Writer

North Carolina has dealt with gerrymandering since the 1980s, but it has been a relevant problem throughout the states since their establishment. Every 10 years, states redraw their congressional districts based on the census to create districts that are equally populated and comply with the Voting Rights Act. The problem is, when put in the hands of partisan legislators, they get to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians. Gerrymandering is the practice of redrawing boundaries to give a political party an unfair advantage over the other. In the last decade, Republicans have mainly benefited from gerrymandering but it should be noted that both parties have their hands dirty when it comes to political self-interest. 

  North Carolina has made national headlines with a slew of discriminatory voter laws. Republican lawmakers have made many attempts to control and silence minority groups with a voter ID law that would have disenfranchised many African Americans from their right to vote and have now gerrymandered a congressional map to further their political agenda. For a state that trends to an evenly divided popular vote, they managed to illustrate a map that awarded 10 congressional seats to Republicans and just four to Democrats. In February, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the maps violated the free election clause and were designed with intentional partisans. Unsatisfied with the ruling, gerrymanders are bringing their case to the Supreme Court to reinstate their arbitrary map now known as the Moore v. Harper case.

On Dec. 7, the supreme court heard oral arguments from both sides defending and promoting the N.C. court’s ruling. Timothy Moore, the speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, is the leader of legislators defending a blatant misrepresentation of the Constitution’s election clause called the independent state legislature theory. This argues that state legislators get full authority to regulate elections, prohibiting courts and governors from monitoring that power. This theory argues they are legally allowed to violate the state constitution when creating congressional districts and the courts do not have the power to stop them, completely stripping the foundation of American democracy. This dangerous theory would give legislators the power to gerrymander election maps, pass voter suppression laws and even use them as a cover to overturn entire elections. For a party hellbent on protecting the American constitution, they are blatantly violating their entire campaign with a political power grab that violates everything the constitution stands for.

There are two clauses relevant to this case. The first is the Presidential Electors Clause which states “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors.” The other is the Election Clause which says “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.” The Elections Clause gives congress the power to override abuses of power on the state level that constitutional authors, such as James Madison, were afraid of. If the framers of the constitution did not trust state legislatures to run fair elections, then what demonstration within the 21st century would have established the trust to gain that power?  

The theory also relies on an inaccurate interpretation of the term “legislature” meaning “exclusively the legislature.” One way to understand the dangers of this mindset is demonstrated within the first amendment. The amendment states Congress cannot discriminate against speech and religion. Although it may only call out congress, it has been understood historically to apply to the judicial and executive branches as well. A judge may not be under the congressional branch but is still prohibited from discriminating against religious organizations. By construing the clauses relating to the logistics of polling, we are creating a platform that could question the very basis of human rights and liberties in this country. 

North Carolina lawmakers are calling for a Constitution-free control, rejecting the separation of powers that has been long established to protect the American people from corruption. They are using the Constitution to reject the Constitution, a hypocritical manipulation of the document. The theory has been rejected by numerous political actors and historians across party lines, as recently as 2019. Multiple Republican governors and secretaries have all rejected this theory including all 50 chief justices from each state. The only people backing up this claim come from a smaller bipartisan group of radical right-wing conspiracists that have been entangled in Donald Trump’s misconduct. With the polarization within the nation’s politics being as it is, it should be important to recognize the sweeping agreement against the theory between party representatives. Justices Samuel Alito Jr., Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh have all displayed openness to the theory. This raises red flags about the partisanship of the branch designed to check politicians rather than flatter them. If passed, the floodgates of self-interest will be opened across all three branches of government. 

Outside of the disrespect to democracy, it would be a logistical nightmare. There would be different rules for state and federal elections ensuring chaos. Election officials would be powerless leaving every small nuance to legislatures who could not realistically address and govern in a time frame as short as an election day. The federal court is not designed to manage the magnitude of our elections. The idea of federalism is established, surprisingly enough, in the Constitution. National governing bodies should respect state governments, courts and lawmaking processes. The theory calls for an intervention of federal courts in the disagreements between state courts and state legislatures on state constitutions, overriding any previous conclusions.  The framers designed separate governing systems to distribute and limit the power of the national government. They are attempting to dismantle the checks and balances of state governments that have long been established. Federalism’s core concept is to bring power to the people while our Republican representatives are working tirelessly to take that away.

Republican legislators of North Carolina wouldn’t go to drastic measures to control elections if they knew educated people wanted to vote for them. Instead, they are arguing a spineless case to the Supreme Court that ultimately strips Americans of their voting rights. They are preying on vulnerable rural communities with claims of “liberal hysteria” using childish fear-mongering to create a following. These extremists are an embarrassment to any sensible member of the conservative party. With democracy at stake, it is necessary for opposing sides to put down their differences and fight for the American people they claim to care so much about.