The Supreme Court recently dealt a major blow to voting rights and opened the door to even more direct attempts by Republican lawmakers to stop people of color from voting.
The nation’s top court ruled that two Arizona laws—which lower courts had previously ruled unconstitutional and explicitly racist—will be allowed to stand, even further weakening long-standing protections in the Voting Rights Act and opening the door for the court to turn a blind eye to more Republican attempts to suppress votes and manipulate elections in their favor.
The 6-3 vote was along ideological lines, with Justice Samuel Alito writing the decision for the court’s conservative majority, and the liberals in angry dissent, in the case known as Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee.
One Arizona law banned the collection of absentee ballots by anyone other than a relative or caregiver, and the other threw out any ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
A federal appeals court struck down both provisions, ruling that they had an unequal impact on minority voters and that there was no evidence of fraud that would have justified their use.
The most egregious part of the decision is to uphold a law in Arizona that banned voters from getting help returning mail-in ballots, which lower courts rightly saw as a direct attempt to curb voting by Native Americans living in rural areas and on reservations in the state, who do not receive postal service at their homes.
Alito wrote that “the mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.”
“Justice Alito was trying to turn back the clock on voting rights many decades,” said Richard Hasen, a leading expert on voting rights and law professor at University of California Irvine. “I think it’s fair to say that all of the major paths to challenging voting rules in federal court have been severely cut back.”
“Republicans in states across the country will surely take this ruling as a blank check to continue passing laws to stop Democrats and people of color from voting,” said Lisa McCormick, a New Jersey’s leading progressive activist who noted that “this isn’t the first time that the Supreme Court has attacked the right to vote.”
In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts ludicrously claimed that “our country has changed” since the Voting Rights Act was implemented in 1965, in a decision gutting provisions of the law that stopped racist voter suppression laws.
Almost immediately after that, Republicans in states across the country passed racist laws aimed at stopping people of color from voting.
“Fueled by Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, Republicans have been passing more and more racist voter suppression laws in an effort to manipulate elections in their favor or simply overturn results they don’t like—and this latest decision means American courts are unlikely to block those laws and state legislatures will pass even more of them,” said McCormick.
McCormick has called on Congress to pass a new Voting Rights Act, named for the heroic civil rights leader and congressman, John Lewis, and challenged President Joe Biden to overcome the filibuster in the Senate that is abused by Republicans to stymie action to correct injustices.
“Led by the extremist right-wing Supreme Court justices appointed by Trump, corrupt jurists are granting un-American politicians a license to destroy voting rights,” said McCormick. “In an American democracy, voting rights should not have unnecessary restrictions.”
Writing the dissent, Justice Elena Kagan accused the conservative majority of “yet again” rewriting the Voting Right Act, a law designed to bring about “the end of discrimination in voting.”
“Never before has a statute done more to advance the nation’s highest ideals,” Kagan said. “Few laws are more vital in the current moment. Yet in the last decade this Court has treated no statute worse.”
The Voting Rights Act “confronted one of this country’s most enduring wrongs; pledged to give every American, of every race, an equal chance to participate in our democracy,” wrote Kagan. “That law, of all laws, should not be diminished by this court.”
Eight years ago, the top court by a 5-4 majority gutted the Voting Rights Act’s key provision, which until then required state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get federal approval prior to making any changes in voting procedures.
In the wake of former President Donald Trump’s false claims that Democrats stole the 2020 election, many states controlled by Republicans have sought to change voting laws in a way that is aimed at curtailing the right to vote, particularly among minorities.
Last month, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that 22 new voting laws had been enacted and 389 proposed in 48 states just since the 2020 election.
Brennan Center President Michael Waldman testified before the House on the need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act, another measure McCormick has called on Congress to pass.
“This is a critical moment for our democracy and a critical aspect of the fight for our democracy,” said Waldman, in testimony given before the House Administration Committee’s Election Subcommittee. “As you all know, the Voting Rights Act was perhaps the most effective civil rights law our nation has ever had — vital to the drive for a vibrant multiracial democracy in our country.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that both policies violated Section 2 because they resulted in discrimination against Native American, Latino, and Black voters. The court also held that the ballot collection ban was passed by Arizona’s legislature for a discriminatory purpose, in violation of both the Voting Rights Act and the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal from that decision.