On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that two Arizona voting restrictions did not violate the Voting Rights Act, the landmark legislation that bans racially discriminatory voting rules.
The 6-3 decision was made along ideological lines, with the court’s conservative members comprising the majority and the liberal justices in dissent.
Their ruling upholds two voting laws in Arizona. One mandates that any ballots placed at the wrong voting precinct cannot be counted, and the other decrees that absentee ballots can only be delivered to a precinct by a relative, mail carrier, or election official.
Both restrictions had previously been struck down by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, who argued that they violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act which bans voting regulations that “result in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race.” The appeals court also found that “there is no evidence of any fraud in the long history of third-party ballot collection in Arizona.”
Judge William A. Fletcher of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals wrote that the Arizona laws were discriminatory to minority voters, given that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous voters were much more likely to cast ballots at the wrong precinct due to “frequent changes in polling locations; confusing placement of polling locations; and high rates of residential mobility.”
Additionally, the appeals court argued that the law’s restriction on ballot collecting by anyone other than a relative or official would disproportionately affect minority voters, who rely on ballot collection services much more than white voters. The appeals court cited the Navajo Nation, a large swath of land with very few post offices, where many people without transportation can only vote through ballot collectors.
However, Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the Supreme Court’s majority decision, claimed that the Arizona laws did not unfairly burden minority voters, and that the restrictions were necessary to prevent voting fraud.
Justice Elena Kagan, in her dissent, wrote that “Wherever it can, the majority gives a cramped reading to broad language. And then uses that reading to uphold two election laws from Arizona that discriminate against minority voters.” She continued, “This Court has no right to remake Section 2. Maybe some think that vote suppression is a relic of history—and so the need for a potent Section 2 has come and gone…But Congress gets to make that call.”
In response to the ruling, Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP, said, “The Court sent a clear message that vote suppressors around the country will go unchecked as they enact voting restrictions that disproportionately impact voters of color.”
“Once again, a conservative Court has signaled to racists, intent on denying Black people our right to vote, that Jim Crow is alive and well in the hearts of the conservative justices,” said Marcela Howell, president and CEO of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda, in a statement Thursday. “Conservative lawmakers across the country are pulling out all the stops to prevent people of color—especially Black people—from exercising our right to vote … But they will not have the last word.”
The court’s decision has also renewed calls for Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore important protections of the Voting Rights Act.
“We demand that Congress immediately pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We are organizing every voter to hold their elected representatives accountable to demand immediate action to pass this legislation,” Howell said. “Stopping the attacks on our voting rights is integral to dismantling systemic racism and sexism.”