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EDITORIAL/High Court Sidestep: Justices may be able to avoid ruling on election hot potato

March 3, 2023 at 10:00 p.m.

Can state legislatures set elections rules without oversight by the court system?

That's the question before the U.S. Supreme Court in a North Carolina case that some observers fear could allow majority parties to stack the deck in their own favor at the ballot box.

The North Carolina Supreme Court last year threw out U.S. congressional district lines redrawn by the state legislature after the 2020 census .

The court ruled the redrawn lines "unlawful partisan gerrymanders." In other words, the Republicans who control the state legislature drew the lines to favor GOP supporters and minimize the votes of Democratic voters.

The court, itself an elected body, had a Democratic majority.

Lawmakers challenged the court's authority to oversee lawmakers' control of federal election rules under what is called the "independent state legislature" theory. Though not set in stone, proponents say the U.S. Constitution, by giving state legislatures the power to prescribe federal election rules, essentially does away with judicial oversight -- even overriding such provisions in state constitutions.

The nation's highest court heard arguments in the case Thursday. So what will the justices decide?

They may not. You see, with the November elections, the North Carolina Supreme Court now has a Republican majority. And that new majority has agreed to reconsider the earlier decision on the GOP's new district lines.

If the court reverses itself, it could render the case moot and the U.S. Supreme Court would be able to dodge making a call on the independent legislature theory.

We suspect that's just what will happen. And it's too bad. The independent state legislature theory torpedoes the system of checks and balances -- the idea that the three branches of government serves as watchdogs over the excesses of any one branch. There is already way too much partisan control over redistricting and other election law. There shouldn't be any more. The independent state legislature theory puts party interests above the overall will of the people. And we doubt that's what the Founders had in mind.

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