WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Thursday, July 1, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld two different Arizona voting laws, with a majority of six conservative justices ruling in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (DNC) that “neither Arizona’s out-of-precinct rule nor its ballot-collection law violates” Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The decision further weakens the VRA, a significant protection against racially discriminatory voting laws.
The lawsuit, originally filed in 2016 by the DNC, DSCC and other Democratic groups, challenged two provisions of Arizona’s elections laws: (1) a 2016 law that criminalized the practice of ballot collection and (2) Arizona’s wholesale rejection of ballots cast in the wrong precinct. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona and struck down the practices, holding that both laws violate Section 2 of the VRA and the ballot collection ban also violates the 15th Amendment. The Arizona Republican attorney general successfully petitioned the Supreme Court, with the Court ultimately rejecting the 9th Circuit’s reasoning. While the majority admitted that both laws cause some degree of burden on the right to vote, they held that neither law imposes a disproportionate burden on minority voters and that the ballot collection ban was not enacted with a discriminatory purpose. In ruling that neither law violates Section 2 of the VRA, the Court leaves these laws in place for future elections in Arizona.
In a scathing dissent joined by liberal Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer, Justice Elena Kagan attacks the majority’s “cramped reading” of the VRA, writing 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.”
While this decision upholds laws that disproportionately impact Arizona’s Native American, Hispanic and African American citizens by unduly burdening their right to vote and limiting their access to the ballot box, the Supreme Court did not take the drastic step of striking down Section 2 of the VRA.