The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld two Republican-supported Arizona voting laws they say are intended to ensure election integrity.
The decision, delivered by a 6-3 court split on partisan lines, found that neither law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and that they were not enacted with racially discriminatory intent. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the court’s majority opinion. Justice Elena Kagan led the liberals in dissent.
The laws require two things. The first is that a ballot be thrown out if it was cast in a precinct other than the one matching the voter’s home address. The second is a ban on “ballot-harvesting,” a practice in which third-party carriers collect absentee ballots and deliver them for counting.
Alito wrote in his opinion that because the laws gave voters an “equal opportunity” to vote, they were not discriminatory. He criticized the dissent for taking another tack, which focused on the fact that after the laws were enacted, they had a “disparate impact” on minorities, many of whom were voting in the wrong district or participating in ballot-harvesting.
Alito warned that Kagan and anyone opposing the laws were advancing a “radical” project, in which the only thing that a state takes into account when making voting laws is “the size of any disparity in a rule’s impact on members of protected groups.” And while that is an interest, Alito wrote, it is impossible to make laws that will not have some effect on how many people of any particular group vote.
“Differences in employment, wealth, and education may make it virtually impossible for a State to devise rules that do not have some disparate impact,” Alito wrote.
At the same time, he added, focusing solely on the disparate impact of laws inevitably lays aside other considerations, such as preventing fraud. And on the whole, the requirements of the two laws in question are “unremarkable,” Alito wrote.
Kagan, on the other hand, took the opposite opinion. Citing the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, which held that black people do not have constitutional rights, Kagan wrote that Alito was the one with a radical project.
“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,” Kagan wrote. “What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about ‘the end of discrimination in voting.'”
The Arizona Republican Party and the Democratic National Committee have been feuding over the laws since before the 2016 presidential election. The case received renewed attention in the aftermath of the 2020 election after many red-state politicians said that coronavirus-era voting provisions had unfairly tilted the election to the Democrats.
Democrats said that the laws are racist because they could disproportionately affect black, Latino, and Native American populations. The DNC, in its brief, called Arizona’s out-of-precinct policy one of the “most punishing in the nation” and accused it of effectively disenfranchising more than 38,000 voters since 2008. It also alleged that the ballot harvesting ban took voting rights away from minorities who rely on third-party carriers to vote.
Republicans pushed back, citing bipartisan support for ballot harvesting. In the most prominent example, a commission led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker recommended that these bans could “reduce the risks of fraud and abuse in absentee voting.”
The Trump administration threw its support behind Arizona. When President Joe Biden took office, the Justice Department maintained that support.
During arguments, the justices appeared challenged by the case. Kagan proposed a series of hypotheticals demonstrating the difficulty of determining when a voting restriction law is racially discriminatory. Both Justices Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts said that ballot harvesting laws are not racist on their face.
The case’s decision came amid a larger debate over voting restrictions.
Author: Nicholas Rowan
Source: Washington Examiner: Supreme Court upholds Arizona voting rules, including ballot-harvesting ban