The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 on a partisan basis Thursday to uphold Republican-backed voting rules in Arizona, which Democrats accused of illegally discriminating against the state’s Native American, Hispanic and black voters.
The case concerned two Arizona voting rules that were found by a federal appeals court to violate the voting rights law for their disproportionate impact on minorities. In a statement for a majority in the court, Judge Samuel Alito said that none of the rules violated civil rights law.
One of the measures known as “Outside the constituency” disqualifies ballots cast in the wrong constituency on election day. The other measure, known as the “Voting Act,” bans most people, except family members, from collecting ballots and casting them at the polls. Republicans often refer to third party ballot collection as ballot picking.
The Democratic National Committee has challenged the two measures under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires that elections be equally open to people of all races. The 9th US Court of Appeals sided with the DNC.
The appeals court said in a ruling last year that outside of the county politics had a discriminatory effect on Native American, Hispanic and black voters in Arizona. Regarding the ballot collection law, the court stated that circumstances “cumulatively and unequivocally show” that racial bias was responsible for its enactment.
Alito was supported in the majority by the five other judges appointed by Republican presidents: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. The three court-appointed Democrats, Judges Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, voted against.
Alito wrote that none of the laws had a major impact on the openness of elections to all voters. Under Arizona law, he wrote, it is generally “very easy to vote”.
“Having to identify your own polling station and then having to travel there to vote does not exceed the ‘usual burdens of voting,'” Alito wrote. He added that the supposedly different impact on minority voters was “small in absolute terms”.
A lower court found that approximately 1% of ballots cast by Native American, Hispanic and black voters were entered in the wrong district on election day. For non-minorities, the rate was about half as high.
“A policy that appears to work for 98% or more of the voters it applies to – minorities and non-minorities alike – is unlikely to make a system unevenly open,” Alito wrote.
Regarding the ballot collection measure, Alito said the Democrats had failed to show that the law had any different effects. Even if the law had such an effect, he wrote, given the state’s interest in determining its electoral rules, it would not be enough to invalidate the law under the Voting Law.
Alito cited the Purcell v. Gonzalez in 2006, in which the court argued that “a state undeniably has an overriding interest in maintaining the integrity of its electoral process”.
“Limiting the groups of people who can hold early elections to those who are less likely to have ulterior motives deter potential fraud and improve voter confidence,” Alito wrote.
In a dissent that Breyer and Sotomayor joined, Kagan described the majority decision as a tragedy.
“The tragic thing here is that the Tribunal has (once again) rewritten a statute – to weaken it – that stands as a monument to America’s greatness and protects against its meanest impulses,” wrote Kagan. “The tragic thing is that the court damaged a law designed to ‘end discrimination in voting’.”
The former dean of Harvard Law School criticized Alito’s formulation of the Arizona rules as being of little inconvenience to minority voters.
“And what is a ‘mere inconvenience’ or ‘usual burden’ anyway? Suffrage drafters understand that ‘social and historical conditions’, including inequalities in education, wealth and employment, often affect choice,” Kagan said . wrote.
“What doesn’t prevent one citizen from casting a vote could prevent another,” she added.
The case was settled as Republican-led parliaments across the country pondered new voting measures that tightened electoral rules in future competitions. The wave of new bills was inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 elections were tainted by widespread voter fraud.
Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement the decision was a “resounding victory for electoral integrity and the rule of law.”
“Democrats were trying to make the Arizona ballots less secure for political purposes, and the court saw through their partisan lies. In Arizona and across the country, states know best how to manage their own elections,” said McDaniel.
The ruling is the first time the court has examined how Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act applies to federal ballot collection and counting laws. In the Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, the Supreme Court weakened a separate provision of the law that ordered places with a history of discrimination to receive state approval for new election campaigns.
President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice has promised to focus more on voting rights as a result of Shelby County’s decision and new electoral laws. Last month, Attorney General Merrick Garland said he would redouble his voting rights enforcement staff.
Biden said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed with today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court that falls below the suffrage law and upholds what Judge Kagan describes as” significant racial inequality in choice “.
“In just eight years, the Court has severely damaged two of the most important provisions of the 1965 Suffrage Act – a law that took years of struggle and effort to get through,” Biden said.
Voting attorneys said Thursday the court’s decision could make protecting voting rights difficult.
In a statement made after the court’s decision was published, American Civil Liberties Union proxy attorney Davin Rosborough said “The court’s narrowing of Section 2 is particularly worrying given its importance in combating laws designed to suppress voters that disproportionately harm color communities. “
“The court’s decision adopts a standard for demonstrating violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act that is inappropriately narrow and contrary to the law’s intent to eliminate all voting practices that have a racially discriminatory effect on choice, be it blunt.” or subtle, “he said.
Meanwhile, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican defending the state’s actions, hailed the court’s decision.
“Today is a victory for electoral integrity in Arizona and across the country. Fair elections are the cornerstone of our republic and they start with rational laws that protect both the right to vote and the accuracy of the results, ”he said.
The cases are officially known as Brnovich v Democratic National Committee, No. 19–1257 and Arizona Republican Party v DNC, No. 19–1258.