SCOTUS Rules Arizona Voting Restrictions Aren't Discriminatory

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona's voting restrictions on early ballot return and ballots cast in the wrong district are not racially discriminatory.

In a 6-3 vote, the court decided to reverse a lower court ruling that found racial discrimination in Arizona's limits on who can return early ballots for another person and not counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct.

In contrast, San Francisco's federal court of appeals held the measures were in violation of the Voting Rights Act, and disproportionately affected Black, Hispanic and Native American voters.

The ruling could make overturning other voting measures by Republican lawmakers after last year's elections more difficult.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

SCOTUS Upholds Arizona Voting restrictions
The U.S. Supreme Court is shown on June 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Arizona's voting restrictions on early ballot return and ballots cast in the wrong district are not racially discriminatory. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for a conservative majority that the state's interest in the integrity of elections justified the measures.

The court rejected the idea that showing that a state law disproportionately affects minority voters is enough to prove a violation of the law.

In dissent, Justice Elena Kagan wrote that the court was weakening the landmark voting rights law for the second time in eight years.

"What is tragic here is 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. What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about 'the end of discrimination in voting.' I respectfully dissent," Kagan wrote, joined by the other two liberal justices.

The challenged Arizona provisions remained in effect in 2020 because the case was still making its way through the courts.

President Joe Biden narrowly won Arizona last year, and since 2018, the state has elected two Democratic senators.

The ruling comes eight years after the high court took away what had been the Justice Department's most effective tool for combating discriminatory voting laws — a different provision of the voting rights law that required the federal government or a court to clear voting changes before they could take effect in Arizona and other states, mainly in the South, with a history of discrimination.

Many of the measures that have been enacted since then would never have been allowed to take effect if the advance clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act had remained in force.

Left in place was section 2 of the law, with its prohibition on rules that make it harder for minorities to exercise their right to vote. At the heart of the Arizona case was the standard for proving a violation of the law.

Alito cautioned that the court did not on Thursday "announce a test to govern involving rules, like those at issue here, that specify the time, place, or manner for casting ballots."

Many Republicans continue to question the election's outcome, despite the absence of evidence. Republican elected officials have responded by enacting restrictions on early voting and mailed-in ballots, as well as tougher voter identification laws.

Lawsuits challenging laws enacted in Florida and Georgia, including a Justice Department suit in Georgia last week, allege violations of the voting rights law.

Voting Arizona
In this Nov. 4, 2020, file photo Maricopa County elections officials count ballots at the Maricopa County Recorder's Office in Phoenix. Eight years after carving the heart out of a landmark voting rights law, the Supreme Court is looking at putting new limits on efforts to combat racial discrimination in voting. The justices voted 6-3 that the Arizona restrictions are not discriminatory. (AP Photo/Matt York, File) Matt York, File/AP Photo