Democracy Before the US Supreme Court

Protecting the environment and protecting our democracy go hand-in-hand – they are intertwined causes that are constantly under threat by big polluters, corporate malfeasance, and partisan attacks. All the critical issues that our country faces—combating the climate crisis, ensuring quality, affordable health care, creating good family-wage paying jobs, fighting for reproductive rights for all and achieving racial justice, to name just a few—have to be addressed by a strong democracy. And many of the places that experience the worst environmental racism – communities of color and low income communities – also see rampant voter suppression.

The US Supreme Court is currently considering two cases that could have a massive impact on our democracy and freedom to vote, and environmentalists must pay attention.

Moore v. Harper

The first Supreme Court case to watch is Moore v. Harper, which is another redistricting case in North Carolina that could have far more serious implications for voting rights and the future of our democracy itself. 

In Moore, North Carolina lawmakers argue that state legislatures should have near absolute power to run federal elections, with no meaningful checks and balances from the other branches of state government, such as the state courts or Governors. They’re basing their case on a fringe concept called the ‘independent state legislature theory (ISLT).

The ISLT comes from an extremely fringe reading of the Article 1 Section 4 of the US Constitution and essentially would permit partisan state legislatures to pass any voting law pertaining to federal elections they like and state courts and governors could not stop them. outside of the review of state courts and without meaningful substantive input from Governors.

If the Supreme Court accepts the radical ‘independent state legislature theory,’ it could effectively allow partisan state legislatures to set their own election rules for presidential and congressional elections and strip state courts or Governors of the power to strike down anti-democratic laws. This could pave the way for widespread purges of voters from voting rolls, dramatic cuts to popular early voting and vote-by-mail options, discriminatory and burdensome barriers to accessing and casting a ballot, voting access, baseless challenges to fair election results, fewer protections against voter intimidation, and rigged voting maps.

We can’t allow politicians to manipulate elections. The court must reject this attempt to destroy well-established checks and balances and sow chaos and doubt in our elections.

Merrill v. Milligan

The second case is Merrill v. Milligan, which concerns the Voting Rights Act. In this case a federal district court held that Alabama’s 2021 redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting Black votes. 

The district court ordered the state legislature to create two majority Black districts, but the state refused. These case was appealed to the Supreme Court. In an emergency order (what some call the “shadow docket”) last term, the Court temporarily reinstated the discriminatory maps suspending the district court’s decision that section 2 of the Voting Rights Act required for maps that  include two majority Black Districts. Now, it’s set to decide the merits of the case. If the Court decides to make the maps permanent, they will be in place until the next redistricting cycle begins in the 2030s. A permanent ruling would further reduce the strength of the Voting Rights Act,  the primary safeguard for communities against  discriminatory maps for the past four decades 

Redistricting and congressional representation directly affects the resources a county or city receives, from health care to education and everything in between, which affects quality of life for all. Alabama's increasingly diverse population calls for electoral maps that allow Alabama’s Black to fairly elect candidates of their choice to Congressional office. Unfair mapping and gerrymandering weaken community power by denying certain groups the ability to choose a candidate who will fight for the needs of the community.

We must put people over politics and build a democracy where everyone participates, every vote is counted, and every voice is heard. 

The Sierra Club will be closely monitoring these two cases and we expect a decision in both cases to come out in late spring/early summer of 2023.  Our ability to accomplish our environmental priorities, from combatting the climate crises to addressing and ending environmental injustices across the country all depend on Americans' fair and equitable access to vote and a vibrant democracy.  Without it, our ability to elect leaders who will fight and pass legislation for these issues and the issues of communities will be ignored.


Up Next

Próximo Artículo