Tomorrow the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a very consequential case over voting rights. The case could determine the nation’s fidelity to basic democratic principles about checks and balances and allocation of power.
The issue at the center of the case appears unremarkable at first, the drawing of maps for congressional districts in North Carolina. But fundamental human rights are at stake, and how the court decides could shape the future of US democracy.
The Supreme Court will be deciding whether it is necessary to preserve the ability for citizens to be able challenge the redrawing of a voting district map in court if they feel their rights have been violated. The right to remedy is crucial in protecting the rights of all citizens, including against discrimination in voting based on race, religion, or other protected class.
State legislatures draw these maps, and partisan gerrymandering – creating congressional districts to ensure one party will win – is rife in the US. These maps are often redrawn to dilute the voting power of marginalized populations, in particular Black voters. The maps drawn by the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature were so extreme, the state’s supreme court intervened and adopted an independently drawn map. Republican lawmakers took the case to the US Supreme Court arguing courts have no right to intervene in elections. Their argument is based on the untested “independent state legislature theory” (ISLT), which would eviscerate checks and balances, meaning state legislatures could advance extreme gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, and potentially upend election outcomes without judicial oversight.
The ISLT violates the US’s international human rights obligations, as detailed by Human Rights Watch in a court brief in October. The US is obligated to guarantee the right to vote free from partisan gerrymandering and discrimination and the right to an effective remedy when rights are violated. It is dangerous for the court to consider ending that right. Our brief shows the harmful impact of discriminatory actions to limit civil and political rights in Sri Lanka and Iran, showing how it is against US interests to pursue policies akin to those of anti-democratic governments.
The ruling will likely not be issued until mid-2023. In the meantime, the US Congress should take action to shore up voting rights in the US, passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For The People Act to help safeguard against all forms of voter suppression.