Why Moore vs. Harper matters


Moore vs. Who… What? Never heard of it? Well, if you haven’t you’ll probably be hearing a lot about it in the not-to-distant future and it’s worth understanding what the case is all about. It’s all about the North Carolina state legislature’s right to gerrymander congressional districts without intervention by state courts regarding the fairness of the districts. It has big implications for Ohio, too.

The simplified place to start is this. It’s a Supreme Court case under current review and it’s about three basic things affecting elections.

1. Gerrymandering: Defined as “the political act of dividing a state, county, etc. into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.” (dictionary.com) “The practice of drawing the boundaries of electoral districts in ways that give one party an unfair advantage over the other through boundary manipulation or dilution of opposition party members.” (Britannica Encyclopedia)

2. Can state legislatures make up their own election rules and practices (such as gerrymandered districts) or should they be accountable to state and/or federal courts for fair election practices?

3. In the United States, is the traditional concept and practice of executive, legislative and judicial balance of power fundamental to American democracy or is it state-by-state episodic?

Here’s the case summary from the Constitutional Accountability Center: “In Moore v. Harper, the Supreme Court is considering whether the Elections Clause prevents a state court from enforcing voting rights guarantees enshrined in a state constitution to limit a state legislature’s regulation of congressional elections.”

What’s the Elections Clause?

The Elections Clause Art.1 Sec.4 of the U.S. Constitution makes states primarily responsible for regulating congressional elections, but it vests the ultimate power in Congress in that Congress is empowered to pass federal laws regulating congressional elections that automatically displace or pre-empt any contrary state statutes. Then judicial review of congressional laws is the ultimate arbitrator.

According to the Brennan Center, a non-partisan law and policy institute, “In Moore v. Harper, the Supreme Court will decide whether the North Carolina Supreme Court has the power to strike down the legislature’s gerrymandered congressional map for violating the North Carolina Constitution.”

If this all sounds familiar to citizens of Ohio, it’s because the same issues have arisen in our state. In July of this year the Ohio Supreme Court, “found a second proposed map of Ohio’s 15 U.S. House districts violated the Ohio Constitution. The Supreme Court of Ohio today invalidated a second proposed map of Ohio’s 15 U.S. House districts because it violated the partisan gerrymandering prohibitions contained in the Ohio Constitution.” (courtnewsohio.gov)

Arguments are currently being heard this month in Moore v. Harper and it appears from my vantage point, although I’ve been wrong before, that the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court justices aren’t sympathetic with the North Carolina legislature in this case for reasons similar to Ohio Supreme Court reasoning and rulings. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts made this reasoning clear when he said that state court oversight is exactly the role state courts should play… “Provisions in state statutes and state constitutions can provide standards and guidance for state courts to apply.”

Here’s the bottom line. When state congressional election outcomes are so unrepresentative of percentages of registered voters, because congressional districts have become so tortured and disfigured, what we are left with isn’t a democratic electoral process but rather a political deception, a political caper, unbecoming of our democratic principles and our democratic reputation as a nation.

In this case, I’m with Chief Justice Roberts and also Justice Elena Kagan who said that the North Carolina legislature’s point of view “gets rid of the normal checks and balances on the way big governmental decisions are made in this country. And you might think that it gets rid of all those checks and balances at exactly the time when they are needed most.”

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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