Trump may have been voted out of office after just one term, but he changed the makeup of the Supreme Court for a generation, and we’re only just beginning to get a sense of the profound damage that lies ahead.
On Thursday, in a 6-3 decision, the court upheld two Arizona voting laws: one that allows provisional ballots cast by a voter in the wrong precinct to be discarded, and another that bans so-called “ballot harvesting,” which places extreme limits on who can legally collect voters’ ballots.
Federal appeals courts had previously struck down the laws, finding that they had disproportional impact on people of color and other marginalized groups—not to mention the fact that there have been no verified incidents of fraud to justify the laws. But the conservative-leaning court considered the effect on marginalized voters to be negligible, insisting that the laws are merely “inconvenient.”
Just because voting may be “inconvenient for some,” [Justice Samuel] Alito wrote, doesn’t mean that access to voting is unequal. In evaluating what the Voting Rights Act requires, said Alito, courts should look to what the voting rules were in 1982, when the relevant provision of the law was enacted. Back then, he observed, almost all voting was in person and on Election Day. And “the mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.”
This renewed effort to gut the Voting Right Act of its value, of course, fell on ideological lines: Conservatives on the bench were eager to continue dismantling the landmark legislation, while the liberals desperately tried to protect whatever was left of it.
Writing the dissent, Justice Elena Kagan accused the majority of “yet again” rewriting the Voting Right Act, a law, she noted, was designed to bring about “the end of discrimination in voting.”
“Never before has a statute done more to advance the nation’s highest ideals,” she said. “Few laws are more vital in the current moment. Yet in the last decade this Court has treated no statute worse.”
The Voting Rights Act “confronted one of this country’s most enduring wrongs; pledged to give every American, of every race, an equal chance to participate in our democracy,” wrote Kagan. “That law, of all laws, should not be diminished by this court.”
Several Republican-led states are already lining up to institute a slew of new voting restriction laws, and they’ll likely be successful in doing so now that they have the backing of the highest court in the land.
President Biden called the Court’s decision “harmful,” but insisted that it “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.”
He’s right, but unless conservative Democrats and Senate Republicans develop a conscience anytime soon, any overhaul of voting rights still feels like a pipe dream. In a reasonable country, something like the proposed For the People Act would be embraced with open arms, regarded as an opportunity for as many people to vote as possible with as few restrictions as possible. (And in a reasonable country, helping as many people to vote as possible would be universally considered to be a good thing.) But to Republicans, more voters—and specifically more Black and Latino voters—means ceding the political power and influence they can only claim through disenfranchisement. Under these conditions, any attempt to make voting more equitable is DOA.
Republicans are feeling emboldened by voting restrictions, and the right-wing Supreme Court flexing its muscles... what could go wrong?