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Politics chat: State courts v. legislatures on election laws; Same-sex marriage bill


The midterm elections are more than two months away, but the groundwork is already being laid for a fight on virtually every aspect of the elections, from redistricting to who gets to vote and more. We're joined by NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: A group of top judges from all 50 states filed a brief on Tuesday urging the U.S. Supreme Court to not allow state election laws affecting federal elections to go unchecked. Basically, they feel that state courts should have oversight over election laws. This is a very strong message, right?

LIASSON: That's right. This is a battle between state judges and state legislatures. And it all springs from a case called Moore v. Harper out of North Carolina, where the state legislature drew a new congressional map. The map was challenged by Democrats and activists. It was struck down by the North Carolina Supreme Court. But then the U.S. Supreme Court refused to uphold that state court order and will hear the case next month. This is extremely consequential for conservative justices on the Supreme Court who've already suggested they're favorable to what's called the independent state legislature doctrine, which gives politicians, in this case Republican state legislators, control over how elections are conducted with no judicial review from state courts, no checks and balances. So this is the latest battle in the war over democracy and who gets to set election rules, who gets to certify and count votes, etc.

RASCOE: OK. I want to turn to the same-sex marriage bill which the Senate could vote on this week. It passed the House pretty easily, like, with lots of Republican votes, Like, is that going to happen in the Senate?

LIASSON: Probably not. It got 47 Republican votes in the House. So far, it only has three Republicans who support it in the Senate. It's going to need 10 there'll there's - will be a filibuster. And Senators Tammy Baldwin and Susan Collins, Democrat and Republican, think they can get the seven more Republicans, although it's unclear who they might be. And some conservatives are saying, I would vote for this, but the bill is too vague on religious liberties. And Collins and Baldwin are trying to address those concerns with an amendment. But the bottom line here is that a big majority of Americans do support same-sex marriage. They want to keep it legal. The Supreme Court ruled it was constitutional. But in his concurring opinion, when overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that a bunch of other rights, including access to birth control and same-sex marriage, could also be overturned.

RASCOE: So, Mara, is this one of those issues in this year's midterms that could help Democrats?

LIASSON: Yes. You know, you and I have been talking about this. Issues like same-sex marriage, abortion, school prayer in the past hurt Democrats and favored Republicans. But all of a sudden, you see Republicans backing off, scrubbing their websites from statements they'd made in the past or positions they'd held like, all abortion should be illegal - because overturning Roe energized a lot of women. It increased voter registration among women. Democrats are very hopeful that this election will be the exception to the rule on the culture wars, where they'll have the advantage instead of Republicans. And because of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe, all of a sudden, being pro-life for a Republican in a battleground state is no longer rhetorical or theoretical. Now they have to answer questions like, is the fetus a person? Are all abortions murder? Are they for any exceptions? And instead of talking about critical race theory and transgender athletes, we're talking about legal abortions with restrictions - that's Roe - and same sex marriage. Both of those are popular mainstream positions.

RASCOE: In the minute we have left, President Biden is holding his unity summit against hate on Thursday. There's been pressure on him to do this since May, when there was that horrible racist attack in Buffalo, N.Y., that left 10 people dead. What will you be watching for at this event?

LIASSON: I'm watching to see whether Biden will be able to plant Democrats firmly in the mainstream on these issues, like gun violence and political violence, because there is a big middle to occupy here, and the Democratic Party right now is closer to it. Biden has been trying, with varying degrees of success, to make a distinction between what he calls MAGA extremists - Republicans who condone violence, who refuse to accept the results of elections - from mainstream Republicans who merely disagree with him on policy. And I want to see if his message is more nuanced on Thursday than his speech was a couple weeks ago.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you so much, Mara.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.