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State Courts and Constitutional Constraints: The Moore v. Harper Decision

Introduction

In a recent landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the extent to which state courts can impose constitutional restraints on state legislatures' exercise of authority under the Elections Clause. The case, Moore v. Harper, involved a dispute over redistricting in North Carolina and raised crucial questions about the balance of power between state courts and legislatures. The Supreme Court's ruling reaffirmed the role of state courts in upholding constitutional limitations while recognizing the authority of state legislatures in regulating federal elections.


Background

The central issue in Moore v. Harper was whether the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution allows state legislatures to operate independently of state constitutional provisions when setting rules for federal elections. The Elections Clause grants state legislatures the power to regulate the "times, places, and manner" of congressional elections, but it does not explicitly address the relationship between state constitutional provisions and legislative authority. The Supreme Court examined historical precedents and legal arguments to determine the scope of state courts' jurisdiction in reviewing legislative actions under the Elections Clause.


The Precedents

The Supreme Court referred to two key cases in its decision: Ohio ex rel. Davis v. Hildebrant (1916) and Smiley v. Holm (1932). In Hildebrant, the Ohio Supreme Court held that the Elections Clause did not prevent subjecting legislative acts to a popular vote. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed this decision, stating that including the referendum within the state legislative power did not violate the Elections Clause. In Smiley, the Supreme Court ruled that a state legislature's exercise of authority under the Elections Clause must comply with the state's prescribed method for legislative enactments. The Court emphasized that state legislatures are bound by their state constitutions when making laws, including laws related to congressional redistricting. The elections clause of the US Constitution does not exempt state legislatures from following their own state's constitutions when it comes to regulating elections and drawing congressional maps.


Analysis and Rationale

The Supreme Court rejected the argument that state legislatures have exclusive and independent authority under the Elections Clause. The Court reasoned that state legislatures derive their power from both the state constitution and the Federal Constitution. Legislatures are not free to enact laws in any manner other than that prescribed by the state constitution. The Court highlighted the historical practice of state constitutional provisions regulating federal elections, citing examples from Delaware and Maryland that demonstrated the Framers' understanding that state legislatures must abide by state constitutional constraints.

The Court also addressed the distinction between procedural and substantive restraints on legislative authority. It rejected the argument that state legislatures could only be subject to procedural limitations while being immune from substantive constraints. The Court emphasized that state constitutional provisions apply to a legislature's exercise of lawmaking authority under the Elections Clause without differentiating between procedural and substantive restraints.


The Role of State Courts and Judicial Review

The Supreme Court clarified the role of state courts in reviewing legislative actions under the Elections Clause. While state courts have the authority to apply state constitutional restraints, they must not exceed the bounds of ordinary judicial review and encroach upon the specific role reserved for state legislatures by the Federal Constitution. The Court emphasized the duty of federal courts to exercise judicial review to ensure the protection of constitutional limits. A state court may not require a legislature to allow absentee voting, early votings, or vote harvesting unless those things are specifically required by the state's constitution. The role of the state court, according to the opinion, is restricted to determining whether the legislature violated provisions of the state and federal constitutions. Not to legislate requirements that are not in either document.


Conclusion

In the Moore v. Harper decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the authority of state courts to enforce state constitutional constraints on state legislatures' exercise of authority under the Elections Clause. The Court upheld the principle that legislatures must comply with their state constitutions when regulating federal elections. However, the Court emphasized the need for federal courts to fulfill their duty of judicial review to prevent state courts from unconstitutionally intruding on the role of state legislatures. The decision provides important guidance on the relationship between state courts and legislatures in matters of electoral regulation.



For additional context:


According to the decision, if a state legislature bans early voting and early voting is not mentioned in the state constitution, does a state court have the power to require early voting to be allowed?


According to the decision in Moore v. Harper, state courts retain the authority to apply state constitutional restraints when legislatures act under the power conferred upon them by the Elections Clause. However, federal courts must ensure that state courts do not exceed the bounds of ordinary judicial review and unconstitutionally intrude upon the role specifically reserved to state legislatures by Article I, Section 4, of the Federal Constitution.

In the specific scenario you mentioned, if a state legislature bans early voting and early voting is not addressed in the state constitution, the power to require early voting would rest exclusively with the state legislature. State courts would not be able to mandate early voting in such a case, as it would involve expanding or altering the legislative power granted by the state constitution.


Could a state level court mandate that a state legislature permit absentee voting is absentee voting is not provided for in the state constitution?


Based on the information provided in the excerpt from the Moore v. Harper decision, if absentee voting is not provided for in the state constitution and the state legislature has not authorized it, a state court would not have the power to mandate absentee voting. The decision emphasizes that state courts should not exceed the bounds of ordinary judicial review and infringe upon the role specifically reserved for state legislatures under the Elections Clause.

In such a situation, the power to authorize or require absentee voting would typically rest with the state legislature. If the state constitution does not explicitly address absentee voting and the legislature has not enacted laws permitting it, a state court will be limited in its authority to compel the legislature to allow absentee voting.








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