U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared inclined to uphold two Republican-backed voting restrictions in Arizona in a case that could further weaken the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that bars racial discrimination in voting, Reuters informed.
During nearly two hours of oral arguments by teleconference the court’s conservative justices, who hold a 6-3 majority, asked questions that suggested they could make it easier for states to defend voting restrictions. But it remained unclear how far they would raise the bar to prove violations under the Voting Rights Act.
The important voting rights case was heard by the justices at a time when Republicans in numerous states are pursuing new restrictions after former President Donald Trump made false claims of widespread fraud in the Nov. 3 election that he lost to Democratic President Joe Biden. Republican proponents of Arizona’s restrictions cite the need to combat voting fraud.
The justices heard arguments in appeals by Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the state Republican Party of a lower court ruling that found that the voting restrictions at issue disproportionately burdened Black, Hispanic and Native American voters.
One of the measures made it a crime to provide another person’s completed early ballot to election officials, with the exception of family members or caregivers. The other disqualified ballots cast in-person at a precinct other than the one to which a voter has been assigned.
Community activists sometimes engage in ballot collection to facilitate voting and increase voter turnout. The practice, which critics call “ballot harvesting,” is legal in most states, with varying limitations. Voting rights advocates said voters sometimes inadvertently cast ballots at the wrong precinct, with the assigned polling place sometimes not the one closest to a voter’s home.
Some of the conservative justices noted that the voting curbs at issue are either common in other states or address voting practices amenable to fraud. But much of the argument focused on the proper standard by which courts can still remedy discrimination in voting.
Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts pushed back on Michael Carvin, one of the lawyers defending Arizona’s measures, who said that it is not a state’s role to maximize the voting participation of minorities when considering a voting regulation.
“Is it maximizing participation or equalizing it? In other words, that only comes up when you have disparate results. And why should there be disparate results if you can avoid them?” Roberts asked.
Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that a lower court that previously ruled in the case “found no meaningful threat that ballot collection leads to fraud.”
A broad ruling by the high court endorsing the restrictions could impair the Voting Rights Act by making it harder to prove violations. A ruling is due by the end of June.