The Supreme Court Could Demolish Another Pillar of the Voting Rights Act
The Supreme Court’s docket is lighter than usual this term, though it’s hard to blame the justices for it. After Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, the pace of new cases slowed as the court revisited its ideological bounds. The pandemic and the presidential election kept the justices busy on the shadow docket, where decisions are made without oral arguments or full briefings. And the Trump-to-Biden switchover this spring has upended a few cases that had already been slated for consideration.
One of the remaining cases yet to be heard, however, may prove to be its most important of the term. In early March, the justices will hear oral arguments in a dispute over Arizona’s election laws. At issue is the scope of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, one of the two central pillars of the landmark 1965 statute. This court already has a reputation in this area of the law: It is not exactly known for an expansive vision of voting rights. In 2013, it gutted Section 5, the second pillar of the law, in its decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Now the court will consider just how protective the law’s other major provisions will be—just when the country needs them most.
The dispute springs from two consolidated cases, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee and Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee. One of them involves a challenge to the state’s out-of-precinct policy, which throws out provisional ballots cast by voters in the wrong precinct. The other takes aim at a law passed by the Arizona legislature in 2016 that bans most third parties from submitting a voter’s absentee ballot on their behalf, a practice sometimes referred to as “ballot harvesting.”