Supreme Court limits reach of Voting Rights Act

The two Arizona laws that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld on Thursday weren't all that significant but the justices' decision certainly was, with the six-member conservative majority limiting the reach of the Voting Rights Act just as Republican lawmakers around the country put forward bills targeting minorities who form the Democratic party's voter base.

The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, said evidence that a law suppresses minority votes is not, by itself, enough to prove a violation under Section Two of the VRA, which bars racial discrimination in voting nationwide.

"What the court has done is open the door for states across the country to mask what might be their discriminatory intent in facially neutral rules," said Atiba Ellis, a professor of law at Marquette University.

At issue in the case, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, was Arizona's policy throwing out votes accidentally cast out-of-precinct and a law making it a crime for anyone who is not a postal worker, family or household member, elections official, or caretaker to collect people's mail-in ballots.

The justices' narrow reading of Section Two follows the 2013 decision, Shelby County v. Holder, gutting another key provision of the VRA down ideological lines.

Justice Elena Kagan, dissenting for Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, wrote, "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."

In a statement, President Joe Biden said he was "deeply disappointed" in the ruling, but continued, "the Court’s decision, harmful as it is, does not limit Congress’ ability to repair the damage done today: it puts the burden back on Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act to its intended strength."

But Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California–Irvine, said that's unlikely to happen.

"There does not appear to be any way to get significant voting rights legislation through Congress unless the Democrats are willing to blow up the filibuster," Hasen said. "And it doesn't appear like that's going to happen."