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Supreme Court Rejects “Independent State Legislature” Theory

As reported in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other leading media outlets, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in favor of the respondents in Moore v. Harper, squarely rejecting the so-called independent state legislature theory. Paul, Weiss, in coordination with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, filed an amicus brief on behalf of a group of leading historians of the Founding era in support of the respondents.

The “independent state legislature” theory holds that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause (Art. I, § 4, cl. 1) vests state legislatures with exclusive authority to regulate the time, place and manner of federal elections, including the designation of congressional districts, independent of state constitutional restrictions, the rulings of state courts applying state law, and other state government actors. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts held that the Elections Clause does not vest exclusive and independent authority in state legislatures to set the rules regarding federal elections and, therefore, did not bar the North Carolina Supreme Court from overturning the legislature’s congressional districting plans under the state constitution. Chief Justice Roberts echoed the arguments advanced by our clients, concluding that “historical practice confirms that state legislatures remain bound by state constitutional restraints when exercising authority under the Elections Clause.” At oral argument, Don Verrilli, the former U.S. Solicitor General who represented one of the respondents, mentioned our clients’ brief as the best historical source of James Madison’s explanation of the Elections Clause.

The Paul, Weiss team included litigation partner Robert Atkins, of counsel Walter Rieman, counsel Jonathan Hurwitz and associates David Cole, Jake Struebing, Arielle McTootle, Neil Chitrao and Jennifer Kim.

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