The U.S. Supreme Court upheld two restrictive voting laws in Arizona regarding provisional ballots and having third parties deliver mail-in ballots Thursday, delivering a blow to voting rights advocates and and weakening the Voting Rights Act, potentially making it easier for the GOP to now impose new restrictive voting laws across the country.
The Democratic National Committee challenged two Arizona voting laws: An “out-of-precinct” policy that prohibits provisional ballots from being counted if they weren’t cast at a voter’s designated polling place, and a ban on third parties submitting ballots on someone’s behalf—referred to by Republicans as “ballot harvesting”—outside of only certain people like a voter’s family and household, mail carriers and caregivers.
Democrats argued the laws violate the Voting Rights Act’s provision prohibiting voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race.
While a district court ruled in Arizona’s favor and an appeals court panel initially did as well, the appeals court then reversed their decision and ruled in favor of the DNC.
The court reversed that appeals court ruling in a 6-3 decision, ruling that both laws do not violate the Voting Rights Act and are not racially discriminatory.
Justice Samuel Alito said in the court’s opinion that the justices would “decline” to “announce a test” that could be used to determine whether other laws violate the Voting Rights Act, but provided “guideposts” that can let courts more narrowly tailor the law in the future, potentially letting more restrictive voting rules be upheld.
The court ruled that the “out-of-precinct” policy “does not exceed the ‘usual burdens of voting,’” nor does the ballot collection law, which the court said “deters potential fraud and improves voter confidence.”
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The court’s ruling could affect Republicans’ efforts to impose new voting restrictions across the country in the wake of the 2020 election, as former President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of voter fraud spurs GOP lawmakers to implement new limits on voting in the name of “election integrity.” The Brennan Center for Justice reports 28 laws restricting voting have now passed in 17 states this year as of June 21, including major battleground states such as Florida, Arizona and Georgia. The laws have already resulted in more than a dozen lawsuits seeking to strike them down, many of which draw upon the Voting Rights Act and could be influenced by the court’s opinion in the Arizona case.
“What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten—in order to weaken—a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent for the court, which Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer joined. “What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about ‘the end of discrimination in voting.’”
The Arizona case marked the first time the high court had considered section two of the Voting Rights Act when it comes to restrictive voting laws, though the court has used the law in the past in redistricting cases. The Supreme Court previously struck down a separate section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013 in the case Shelby County v. Holder, which required certain states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting rules to get approval from the federal government before they changed their voting rules. That ruling paved the way for states like Arizona to impose new restrictive voting laws like the ones challenged in the Supreme Court case, though such laws have often been struck down by the courts for being racially discriminatory. The Biden Administration has urged Congress to reimplement requirements for states to get federal preclearance to change their voting rules by passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would make it harder for states to implement similar voting laws in the future. That bill has received bipartisan support from Republicans like Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), but it’s still unclear whether it could get through the Senate while Democrats retain only a slim majority of 50 votes plus Vice President Kamala Harris as tiebreaker.