The U.S. Supreme Court ruled provisions of Arizona law rejecting ballots cast in the wrong precinct and restricting who can collect mail ballots do not violate Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). The 6-3 decision (PDF) affirms lower court rulings and overturns an en banc appellate ruling from the Ninth Circuit. It also appears to move the goalposts for demonstrating that a voting rule “results in a denial or abridgment” of any citizen’s right to vote regardless of their race.
“We now hold that the en banc court misunderstood and misapplied” Section 2 and “exceeded its authority in rejecting” the lower court’s decision, wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority.
It is the first ruling regarding the applicability of Section 2 to “generally applicable time, place or manner voting rules.” All the Court’s past rulings have been related to vote-dilution claims.
Today’s (Thursday’s) Brnovich ruling represents a statutory interpretation – not a constitutional one. Congress can change the statute, as it has before to clarity this section of law. The 1982 amendments mentioned several times in the decision in part overrode City of Mobile v. Bolden, in which the court ruled cities can continue to use at-large electoral systems that have discriminatory effects if they were not enacted with discriminatory purpose.
The potential impact of today’s Brnovich ruling depends on one’s perspective, but most observers agree that the decision narrowed the scope of voting laws or rules that could be invalidated under Section 2.
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