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The Meaning, History, and Importance of Elections Clause

Abstract: Historically, the Supreme Court has offered scant attention to or analysis of the Elections Clause, resulting in similarly limited scholarship on the Clause’s original meaning and public understanding over time. The Clause directs states to make regulations for the time, place, and manner of congressional elections, and grants Congress superseding authority to make or alter those rules.

But the 2020 elections forced the Elections Clause into the spotlight, with Republican litigants relying on the Clause to ask the Supreme Court to limit which state actors can regulate federal elections. This new focus comes on the heels of the Clause serving as the primary constitutional basis for democracy reform legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 and was reintroduced in 2021. Increased interest heightens the need for a deeper understanding of the intent and meaning of the Elections Clause. This Article fills a gap in the literature by providing a first-of-its-kind comprehensive analysis of the purpose, meaning, and interpretation of the Elections Clause by the Framers, early Congresses, and federal courts.

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