Soon, the U.S. Supreme Court will once again rule on whether multiracial democracy has a future in the United States.
The highest court is expected to rule on Moore v. Harper by June 2023, and the stakes of the case couldn’t be higher. If it goes the wrong way, this case could unleash widespread purges of voters from voting rolls, dramatic restrictions to popular early voting hours and locations, discriminatory barriers to voting access, and fewer protections against voter intimidation.
How we got here begins with North Carolina’s last redistricting case to make it to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019, when the justices themselves laid out a path for voters to pick their leaders — not the other way around.
Its ruling in that case, Rucho v. Common Cause, arose after North Carolina’s lawmakers put politics over people and rigged our voting maps so that, in the Old North State, Republicans would always come up winners.
I was one of the lawyers from North Carolina who argued the Rucho case in front of the court. We were joined by voters in Maryland who faced the same kind of manipulations from Democratic lawmakers.
In the majority 5-4 opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts told us that partisan gerrymandering was “incompatible with democratic principles” but that federal courts weren’t the place to bring lawsuits about partisan gerrymandering because it was a “political question” better left to the states. The chief justice told voters they could take challenges to unfair voting maps to state courts, tasked with protecting fundamental rights under state constitutions.
So, when North Carolina lawmakers in 2021 unfortunately once again carved up our state’s maps for partisan gain — disenfranchising primarily Black voters to give Republicans an advantage in coming elections — we asked state courts to intervene.
In response, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a historic ruling, declaring partisan gerrymandering illegal in our state. The landmark ruling favored voters and the responsive districts they deserve and served as vindication for the hundreds of thousands of advocates who marched, testified and used their voices to demand fair maps.
Unwilling to relent, now these same North Carolina lawmakers are making a desperate bid to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking a majority of justices to betray the promise of Rucho and tie the hands of those who would seek reform on the state level.
In this current case, Moore v. Harper, my organization, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, represents the nonpartisan advocates at Common Cause, in what many are calling one of the most consequential voting rights case since Shelby County v. Holder (2013).
In Moore, North Carolina lawmakers, led by Speaker of the House Tim Moore, are relying on a fringe legal idea espoused by a handful of politicians called the “independent state legislature theory.” Using an illogical and ahistorical reading of the U.S. Constitution — already dismissed by the Supreme Court as recently as 2015 — state politicians claim they shouldn’t be subject to the checks and balances we all expect from 3 co-equal branches of state government. Instead, they demand unchecked power to draw Congressional maps and run federal elections.
Should five of the justices side with the lawmakers’ scheme, Moore would create a chaotic election system, pitting state and local elections against new federal election rules. Legislators would be free to violate voters’ rights, and state courts couldn’t stop them.
Specifically, this case could give state lawmakers justification to restrict our votes, draw rigged maps, and cast doubt on our election results — all in the name of partisan gain.
It’s clear that a bad result in Moore could disproportionately harm Black, Native, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and Latinx voters, but they aren’t the only ones at risk here — Americans of all races and political leanings would feel the repercussions of such an extreme outcome. Voters seeking fair representation through the checks and balances of state courts would suffer in Republican and Democratic states alike.
An extreme outcome in Moore is a lose-lose situation for Americans and it would only make it more difficult for voters to turn public sentiment into public policy. From abortion access and Medicaid expansion to closing the digital divide and expanding disaster relief and recovery, Moore would mean voters would have even less input on the issues driving us to the polls.
Those who oppose the threats to election integrity and democracy posed by Moore have joined together in a national campaign led by Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Common Cause to engage our communities, tell our stories, and organize hundreds of thousands of new advocates through town halls, rallies and voter registration. Over the next few months, we’ll educate the public about this full-throated attack on multiracial democracy from a few rogue legislators — felt everywhere from church basements to busy boardrooms to the neighborhood ballot box this November.
Over the last decade, North Carolinians have defeated continuous attempts to rig election districts, delegitimize our courts and disenfranchise Black voters. Not only did we beat back efforts to gerrymander our congressional districts as recently as 2019, but our people stopped plots to gerrymander judicial districts, pack our courts for partisan gain and pass racist barriers to voting access, like photo voter ID requirements. As in those cases, in Moore, we have a strong case to make with history, legal precedent and common sense on our side.
As the date of Supreme Court’s momentous ruling on Moore approaches, let’s all work together to signal to our elected leaders that people, not politicians, are worth the fight for multiracial democracy. That means having Congress pass comprehensive voting rights reform, such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, so we can build an inclusive democracy where everyone in the U.S. can thrive, participate and have their voices heard.