On Tuesday, the Supreme Court declared that the North Carolina Supreme Court acted within its authority when it invalidated a congressional districting plan for being excessively partisan according to state law.
By a vote of 6-3, the justices declined the most extensive interpretation of a case that had the potential to revolutionise elections for both Congress and the president.
The court was requested by North Carolina Republicans to allow state legislatures to have almost complete control over federal elections without interference from state courts.
The court's opinion, as written by Chief Justice John Roberts, states that state courts have the power to enforce state constitutional limitations when legislatures act within the scope of the authority granted to them by the Elections Clause. However, it is important for federal courts to continue fulfilling their responsibility of conducting judicial review.
However, the high court hinted that state court attempts to regulate elections for Congress and the president may have certain restrictions.
The decision has minimal practical impact since the North Carolina Supreme Court, now with a Republican majority, has already reversed its redistricting ruling.
The case would have been dismissed by Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch due to the North Carolina court action that occurred in between.
Ohio has another pending redistricting case, which the justices may use to further address the issue prior to the upcoming elections next year.
Due to the fact that four conservative justices had indicated that the Supreme Court should limit state courts' supervision of presidential and congressional elections, the North Carolina case received a lot of attention.
Those who were against the independent legislature theory contended that if North Carolina Republicans were to receive a strong ruling, it could worsen political polarisation and have wider implications beyond redistricting.
The Brennan Centre for Justice at the New York University School of Law stated that there were over 170 state constitutional provisions, more than 650 state laws giving power to state and local officials to create election policies, and numerous regulations, including the placement of polling places, that could be affected.
In December, arguments were presented to the justices regarding an appeal made by the Republican leaders of the state's legislature. The Republican party's attempt to manipulate congressional districts in their favour was thwarted by the state Supreme Court's Democratic majority. The GOP's map was deemed unconstitutional.
North Carolina's highly competitive midterm elections last year resulted in a court-drawn map that allocated seven seats for each party.
The justices were tasked with determining whether state courts are excluded from the process of making rules about the "times, places, and manner" of congressional elections, as provided by the U.S. Constitution for state legislatures.
In autumn, Michael Luttig, a well-known conservative and former federal judge, expressed his belief that the American election process could undergo significant changes as a result of the North Carolina court ruling, which he is now helping to defend. Luttig stated that this case is the most crucial one for American democracy and in its history.
Republican leaders in North Carolina informed the Supreme Court that the state legislatures and Congress are solely responsible for regulating federal elections, as per the Constitution's meticulously crafted boundaries.
Throughout the course of the three-hour argument, the justices appeared doubtful about issuing a comprehensive decision in the case. The primary focus of a challenge requesting the removal of state courts' authority to invalidate legislature-drawn, gerrymandered congressional district maps based on state constitutions was met with opposition from both liberal and conservative justices.
It is anticipated that North Carolina will proceed with a fresh round of redistricting that will result in a map featuring a greater number of Republican districts.