The US Supreme Courtroom tends to uphold Reuters’ Republican-backed voting restrictions

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Election Day in Tucson, Arizona

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By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday appeared inclined to uphold two Republican-backed voting restrictions in Arizona in a case that contained the Voting Rights Act, a landmark 1965 federal law that bans racial discrimination in voting, could weaken further.

During nearly two hours of oral argument via conference call, the court’s Conservative justices, who have a 6-3 majority, asked questions suggesting they might make it easier for states to defend electoral restrictions. However, it remained unclear to what extent they would raise the bar to prove violations of the voting rights law.

The important case of voting rights was heard by the judges at a time when Republicans in numerous states are pursuing new restrictions after former President Donald Trump made false claims in the November 3 election he lost to Democratic President Joe Biden about widespread fraud. Republican supporters of Arizona’s restrictions cite the need to combat electoral fraud.

The judges heard arguments on appeals from Arizona Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich and the State Republican Party against a lower court ruling that found the contested election restrictions disproportionately burdened Black, Hispanic and Native American voters.

One of the measures made it a crime to provide electoral officials other than family members or caregivers with full early-stage voting to someone else. The other disqualified ballots will be cast in person in a different district than the one a voter was assigned to.

Community activists sometimes collect ballot papers to facilitate voting and increase voter turnout. The practice that critics call “ballot harvesting” is legal in most states with various restrictions. Voting advocates said that sometimes voters accidentally cast ballots in the wrong district, with the assigned polling station sometimes not being the one closest to a voter’s home.

Some of the Conservative judges found that the voting restrictions in question are either common in other states or deal with fraudulent voting practices. Much of the argument, however, has focused on the reasonable standard by which courts can still remove discrimination in voting.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts pushed back Michael Carvin, one of the attorneys defending Arizona’s actions, who said it was not a state’s job to maximize minority voter participation when considering an electoral regime.

“Does it maximize or equalize participation? In other words, it only comes about if you get different results. And why should there be different results if you can avoid them?” Asked Roberts.

Liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted that a lower court that had previously ruled the case “has not found any significant threat that ballot collection leads to fraud”.

A full Supreme Court decision approving the restrictions could undermine the Voting Rights Act by making it difficult to prove violations. A decision is due by the end of June.

Liberal judges examined Carvin on the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable restraints. Carvin admitted to Liberal Justice Elena Kagan that a rule requiring black voters to travel to country clubs to vote would likely be illegal. However, Carvin indicated that limiting voting hours to traditional business days would be lawful even if there was evidence that minority voters would have greater difficulty voting.

Carvin also admitted that outside of the constituency disqualification policy helps Republicans.

It concerns section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which forbids any rule that leads to discrimination on the basis of race or skin color. This provision has been the main tool to show that electoral restrictions discriminate against minorities since the Supreme Court gutted another section of the law in 2013 that specified which states with a history of racial discrimination needed federal approval to amend electoral laws .

“Pretty obvious encumbrances”

Kagan noted that some are more likely to impose election restrictions on voters than others, which signals their interest in the precedent the court might set in the Arizona case that would impact challenges to future laws that may be more restrictive.

“There are some things that are really quite obvious burdens that you only know are going to cause real trouble for black voters or Native American voters or Latino voters and other restrictions that you can say will cause real trouble an inconvenience, but they could overcome that inconvenience if they really wanted to, “said Kagan.

During the dispute, Roberts said it was widely established that electoral fraud is most likely when rallying practices are in place.

Conservative Judge Samuel Alito told an attorney who spoke out against the Arizona restrictions, “As for me, your position will make any voting rule vulnerable to Section 2 attacks.”

The National Democratic Committee and the Arizona Democratic Party sued to try to lift Arizona’s restrictions. The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Court of Appeals found last year that the restrictions violated the voting rights law, even though they remained in effect for the November 3 election. Biden defeated Trump in Arizona.

The 9th Circle also found that “false racial claims of electoral fraud” were used to convince Arizona lawmakers to enact this restriction with discriminatory intent, in violation of the US Constitution’s prohibition on voting rights Refuse race.

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