TOP News

Politics: Voting Rights Act: Supreme Court conservatives poised to uphold Arizona's curbs on voting

Conservative groups are writing GOP voter suppression bills — and spending millions to pass them

  Conservative groups are writing GOP voter suppression bills — and spending millions to pass them Right-wing groups like Heritage and ALEC are crafting model legislation as GOP pushes over 250 restrictions Family Research Council president Tony Perkins at the opening of the council's 2018 Value Voters Summit in Washington.

In a critical voting rights case, conservative Supreme Court justices on Tuesday suggested they were ready to uphold two provisions of an Arizona voting law that Democrats argue violate the historic Voting Rights Act.

the tower of the city: WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: The U.S. Supreme Court stands on December 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. More than 100 Republicans in the House of Representatives voiced their support for a pro-Trump Texas election lawsuit as the state calls for the Supreme Court to delay the certification of election results in four battleground states that Vice President-elect Joe Biden won. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images) © Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 11: The U.S. Supreme Court stands on December 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. More than 100 Republicans in the House of Representatives voiced their support for a pro-Trump Texas election lawsuit as the state calls for the Supreme Court to delay the certification of election results in four battleground states that Vice President-elect Joe Biden won. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)

Supporters of voting rights are fearful that the court's new 6-3 solidified conservative majority will weaken a key provision of the act that prohibits laws that result in racial discrimination.

The Supreme Court’s coming war with Joe Biden, explained

  The Supreme Court’s coming war with Joe Biden, explained The Supreme Court is poised to give itself a veto power over much of the Biden administration’s authority.On February 9, 2016 — the last Tuesday of Scalia’s life — the Supreme Court handed down an unexpected order announcing a stay of the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon emissions rules for many power plants. The vote was 5-4, along party lines, with Scalia joining his fellow conservatives in the majority.

For over two hours of telephonic arguments, the justices grappled not only with the Arizona law at hand but with a standard that courts should apply when considering such laws going forward. Lawyers challenging the provisions came under consistent attack in various forms from all of the conservatives on the court who seemed skeptical of the tests put forward by a lawyer representing the Democratic National Committee.

Justice Samuel Alito told the DNC lawyer that his position in the case "is going to make every voting rule vulnerable to attack" under the law.

"People who are poor and less well educated on balance probably will find it more difficult to comply with just about every voting rule than do people who are more affluent and have had the benefit of more education," said Alito, a conservative appointed by President George W. Bush. He asked whether it would "not be possible to show with respect to just about every voting rule" statistical disparities can emerge.

Voting rights: Democratic-led states eye expansion amid GOP push to restrict access

  Voting rights: Democratic-led states eye expansion amid GOP push to restrict access Virginia and New Jersey this week joined other Democratic-led states moving ahead with new laws that would expand voting access -- a stark contrast to the Republican rush in statehouses across the country to make voting more difficult. © Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images Voters fill out their ballots at an early voting center at the Mount Vernon Governmental Center on October 31, 2020 in Alexandria, Virginia. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which has tracked voting measures across the country, 843 bills that would expand voting access, largely offered by Democrats, have been introduced in 47 states.

What was less clear from arguments is what test the justices will settle on that could impact a raft of new voting restrictions introduced throughout the states.

The Arizona law being challenged requires that in-person Election Day voters cast their votes in their assigned precinct. Another provision says that only certain persons -- family, caregivers, mail carriers and elections officials -- may deliver another person's completed ballot to the polling place.

Chief Justice John Roberts noted at one point, that a bipartisan commission had determined that such laws may be necessary to combat voter fraud. Justice Brett Kavanaugh agreed on that point and asked a DNC lawyer whether there might be a "strong justification" for the laws that are also common in other states.

Bruce Spiva, a lawyer for the DNC, reminded the justices that "voting discrimination still exists, no one doubts this."

Supreme Court weighs entering gun debate amid calls for stricter rules

  Supreme Court weighs entering gun debate amid calls for stricter rules With the Supreme Court now boasting a 6-3 conservative majority, the question has become which case involving gun rights the justices are likely to take up.But amid the public outcry over gun violence, the Supreme Court's nine members are meeting behind closed doors to discuss whether to add to next term's docket disputes over gun regulations, with a ruling from the justices potentially having far-reaching implications for firearms restrictions at the federal and state levels.

"More voting restrictions have been enacted over the last decade than at any point since the end of Jim Crow," Spiva said, and added that "the last three months have seen an even greater uptick in proposed voting restrictions, many aimed squarely at the minority groups whose participation Congress intended to protect."

While several states have versions of both laws, they function differently from state to state. Arizona, for instance, has one of the strictest "out of precinct" regulations and it has a significant Native American population living on rural reservations without traditional mailing addresses and limited access to mail.

"For that reason, they are more likely to rely on ballot collection to turn in their mail in ballots," said Sean Morales-Doyle of the Brennan Center for Justice.

Last year, a federal appeals court invalidated the Arizona provisions, stressing the state's "long history of race-based discrimination against its American Indian, Hispanic, and African American citizens" and highlighting a "pattern of discrimination against minority voters has continued to the present day."

Fact check: Justice Clarence Thomas didn't say Section 230 is unconstitutional

  Fact check: Justice Clarence Thomas didn't say Section 230 is unconstitutional Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas did not say Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act is unconstitutional in a recent concurring opinion.In a 12-page concurring opinion on the court’s dismissal of a case alleging then-President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment by blocking Twitter users, Thomas wrote of the “enormous control over speech” that large social media platforms hold. He compared them to communications utilities regulated by the government.

Justice Clarence Thomas, an active participant in the telephonic arguments, asked a lawyer for the state "what percentage" of minorities who cast ballots in the state were affected by the policies. A lawyer for Arizona's secretary of state responded it was "less than 1%."

But when Justice Amy Coney Barrett pushed Michael Carvin, a lawyer representing the Arizona Republican Party, as to the GOP's interest in the two laws, Carvin didn't mention that it was necessary to combat voter fraud. Instead he talked about pure politics.

"It puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats," he said. "Politics is a zero sum game, and every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 hurts us."

Context of voting rights challenges

Liberal justices, meanwhile, focused their attention on future challenges concerning laws that on their face don't seem problematic but result in racial discrimination.

Georgia voting law explained: Here's what to know about the state's new election rules

  Georgia voting law explained: Here's what to know about the state's new election rules Republican lawmakers in Georgia have overhauled the state's elections. Here's a breakdown of what will change under Senate Bill 202.Democrats and civil-rights groups panned the voting bill, and major Georgia-based corporations came out against the bill after it was passed. GOP state lawmakers who backed the bill and other Republicans nationwide harshly criticized the backlash, calling for boycotts of brands like Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines.

The dispute comes in the aftermath of a contentious election that prompted former President Donald Trump to make unfounded claims of voter fraud and inspired his supporters to storm the US Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election.

Republican state legislators across the country are also moving at a fast clip to pass laws to restrict voting access. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, as of February 19, state lawmakers have carried over or introduced 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states.

Biden’s Supreme Court reform commission won’t fix anything

  Biden’s Supreme Court reform commission won’t fix anything The president’s new commission has a lot of fans — in the Federalist Society.On Friday, President Joe Biden announced that he would sign an executive order creating a “Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States.” Griffith — who retired from the federal bench in 2020, allowing former President Trump to choose his successor — is one of several prominent conservatives on this commission, which the White House says Biden appointed to “provide an analysis of the principal arguments in the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform.

Eight years ago, Roberts wrote the 5-4 majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, effectively gutting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a provision that required states with a history of discrimination to obtain the permission of the federal government or the courts before enacting new laws related to voting.

Since that decision, challengers to voting restrictions have increasingly turned to Section 2 of the law, that holds that no voting regulation can be imposed that "results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." (Unlike a challenge brought under Section 5, a Section 2 challenge occurs after the voting rule is in place.)

Liberal justices voice discrimination concerns

Liberal justices on Tuesday focused their attention on future challenges concerning laws that on their face don't seem problematic but result in racial discrimination.

Supreme Court leaves major conservative cases waiting in the wings, from abortion to guns

  Supreme Court leaves major conservative cases waiting in the wings, from abortion to guns Rather than handing conservatives a string of wins, the Supreme Court has left advocates on the right grasping for answers about high-profile cases.But rather than handing conservatives a string of victories, the justices have – so far – left advocates on the right grasping for answers about why a number of pending challenges dealing with some of the nation's biggest controversies have languished.

Justice Elena Kagan used her time to posit several hypotheticals about laws that might seem legitimate on their fact but result in racial discrimination. She mentioned an array of circumstances including ballot places that could be closed on Sunday, placing polling places at country clubs or poling hours limited to the hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

At another point she seemed to be searching for a line the court could draw.

"There are some things that are really quite obvious burdens, which you just know looking at them is going to lead to read difficulty for black voters or for Native American voters or for Latino voters," Kagan said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was critical of a standard put forward by Carvin. "Aren't you rewriting Section 2?" she asked.

She also pointed out that a district court found "no meaningful threat" that a ballot collection law leads to fraud.

In court, Arizona's Attorney General Mark Brnovich told the justices that the two provisions "do not create any disparate impact on racial minorities but serve us all equally well."

Justice Stephen Breyer pushed back on the notion that a law could pass legal muster if all voters still had the same opportunities to vote. He referenced literacy tests used early in the nation's history to disenfranchise voters. "One question," he asked, "is a literacy test, does that provide people with the same opportunity?"

This story has been updated with additional details from oral arguments.

Supreme Court leaves major conservative cases waiting in the wings, from abortion to guns .
Rather than handing conservatives a string of wins, the Supreme Court has left advocates on the right grasping for answers about high-profile cases.But rather than handing conservatives a string of victories, the justices have – so far – left advocates on the right grasping for answers about why a number of pending challenges dealing with some of the nation's biggest controversies have languished.

See also