This week, the Supreme Court of the United States maintained that state courts have the power to review election laws under state constitutions. In a 6-3 vote, the nation’s highest court rejected the “independent state legislature” theory, arguing that state legislatures can set election rules without oversight from state courts. Those celebrating the decision count it as a victory for voting rights and Black voters.
Considered “radical” by opposers, the independent state legislature (ISL) theory suggests that only the state legislature can make laws regulating federal elections. Mainly backed by the right wing, the theory differs from the general interpretation that considers “legislature” the state’s general lawmaking process, including the governor’s veto, citizen-led ballot measures and rulings of state courts. As Democracy Docket explains, by excluding all other parts of the state government, the theory argues that state legislatures can set election rules and congressional maps unchecked. This would likely lead to gerrymandering and redistricting where Black voters are unable to select candidates who represent them, thus continuing the legacy of a political process where our voices are not heard, and concerns not addressed.
“We commend our Alabama State Conference for their unwavering determination in exposing and challenging the pointed attempts to silence Black voters. Their resilience and relentless fight have resulted in the restoration of Black voters’ voices and votes today,” said NAACP President & CEO, Derrick Johnson in a statement following the SCOTUS decision. “This decision is a victory for Black America and a triumph for our democracy. Let me be clear - a proper democracy cannot function without the Black vote.”
Johnson believes the Supreme Court decision acknowledges and aims to correct the relentless suppression of Black votes and voices that has been prevalent in this country for more than 150 years.
In the opinion, authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, SCOTUS held that the “Elections Clause does not vest exclusive and independent authority in state legislatures to set the rules regarding federal elections…[and] does not insulate state legislatures from the ordinary exercise of state judicial review.” Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Ketanji Brown Jackson joined Roberts, while Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito dissented.
Democratic strategist Adrianne Shropshire believes this ruling will be crucial for Democrats heading into 2024. The executive director of BlackPAC believes that along with the recent redistricting wins in Alabama and Louisiana, these cases are reaffirming voting rights, helping create new minority-majority districts, and empowering Black voters to vote and elect candidates of their choosing. Shropshire also suggests that the ruling will protect against future attempts by Republican-controlled statehouses from gerrymandering politically-contrived districts and passing them along party lines without any review from the state courts on their constitutionality.
The hope for many on the left is that the SCOTUS decision opens up new opportunities to gain seats in red and purple states, and upholds a framework to review and overturn election suppression tactics that disproportionately affect minority communities, including restrictions on early voting, stringent voter ID requirements, and elimination of polling sites.
Despite the win, Johnson says the fight is not over. “The same malicious actors who are working to suppress Black votes in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida are coming to a city near you. We remain committed in our fight for free and fair elections and the ability of Black Americans to elect leaders who will truly represent their interests - that's how we thrive,” says Johnson. “I encourage the Supreme Court to continue issuing opinions that reflect and protect the true opinions of the American people, not an extremist minority.”