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IA Expert: SCOTUS Election Case Should Be on Public's Radar

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Wednesday, July 27, 2022   

Legal analysts and voting-rights advocates are looking ahead to this fall, when the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on a case about state legislatures and election oversight. An Iowa expert sees a mixed outlook.

The case stems from a redistricting dispute in North Carolina and floats what is known as the Independent State Legislature Theory.

Republicans who support it feel a clause in the U.S. Constitution gives legislatures broad powers over federal elections without having to abide by restrictions from state-level courts.

Derek Muller, professor of law at the University of Iowa, said the case should be on the public's radar in the event the court agrees with the theory.

"There is the potential, then, if state legislatures say, 'Oh, we can get more creative, or we can push the boundaries more,' " Muller cautioned. "That is another thing to think about."

But even with a favorable decision, he pointed out a lot would depend on how narrow the court's opinion would be.

Muller added Congress has a say, and existing federal backstops already cover other elements of voting, including mail-in ballots and registration. Pro-democracy groups worry a broad opinion could lead to voter suppression and more efforts to overturn results.

Last year, Iowa Republicans pushed to enact several voting restrictions. The North Carolina case deals with gerrymandered maps, but Muller does not see a potential outcome motivating lawmakers here to make big moves.

Iowa is known for its independent process, and he acknowledged the legislature has largely yielded to it.

"It's chosen to defer to what the agency has done," Muller stated. "I think it's a testament to how the Legislature has trusted what's been happening in that process."

Muller stressed it is important to remember the theory in question only deals with federal election oversight. Depending on the outcome of the case, he predicted a big question for legislatures will be if they want to enact separate voting rules for different levels of government.


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