On Thursday July 1, The U.S. Supreme Court upheld two Arizona voting provisions that critics challenged as disproportionately burdening Black, Latino and Native American voters. A 6-3 majority ruled in favor of the provisions implemented by Arizona Republicans, stating that these measures don’t violate the Votings Rights Act—the landmark 1965 federal law that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
According to SCOTUSBLOG, “The Democratic National Committee went to federal court in 2016, arguing that both restrictions violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed, but the Supreme Court decided to review that decision, and on Thursday it reversed.”
The two provisions in question were one that required ballots cast in the wrong precinct to be thrown out and the other was a state law against “ballot harvesting,” the act of collecting and delivering another person’s ballot (with exceptions for family members, election officials, mail carriers, etc.). This ruling comes amidst a torrent of GOP-led states passing election laws sparked by the false claim that there was massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. In the majority opinion, Justice Alito argued that “Ensuring that every vote is cast freely, without intimidation or undue influence, is also a valid and important state interest.”
The majority also argued that because “minority and non-minority groups differ with respect to employment, wealth, and education, even neutral regulations, no matter how crafted, may well result in some predictable disparities in rates of voting and noncompliance with voting rules. But the mere fact 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.”
In the dissent, Justice Kagan wrote about the continued gutting of the Voting Rights Act, stating that "Never before has a statute done more to advance the nation’s highest ideals. Few laws are more vital in the current moment. Yet in the last decade this Court has treated no statute worse."
Democrats and civil rights groups argue that these measures disproportionately affected and were targeted at minority voters. For example, many Native Americans in Arizona live on reservations far from their closest polling place. Eliminating so-called “ballot harvesting,” places an extra burden on this community in order to exercise their right to vote. Rulings have downstream negative effects, as evidenced in a 2018 survey which stated that the Native American Rights trust in local government was only 16 percent in Arizona, 11 percent in Nevada to only 5 percent in South Dakota.
Voting rights scholars say that this ruling will also make it harder for voting rights advocates to win future cases, including the Biden Justice Department’s lawsuit against Georgia.