The US supreme court has ruled that two voting laws in Arizona are not discriminatory in a boost to Republican-led states that are seeking to implement tighter voting rules.
In a six to three judgment, the court found that two Arizona laws – one that requires provisional votes cast in the wrong district to be discarded, and the other that prohibits third parties from delivering ballots for others – are not in breach of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said that a lower court was wrong to rule that the restrictions introduced in Arizona in 2016 violated section 2 of the landmark Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
President Joe Biden in a statement said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.
“In a span of just eight years, the court has now done severe damage to two of the most important provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – a law that took years of struggle and strife to secure,” he said in a statement.
The practice of delivering ballots for others is legal in most states – a practice that many Republican critics call “ballot harvesting”. Similarly, voting rights activists argue that discarding ballots cast in a district other than the one that has been assigned to the voter is unfair because often the assigned precinct is not the closest one to their home. This may impact tribal communities in particular – an important constituency in Arizona.
The supreme court, which has six Republican-nominated justices, voted along ideological lines, with the three liberal-leaning members of the court dissenting.
In the written dissent, Justice Elena Kagan called the ruling “tragic”, noting that “ever-new forms of discrimination” have crept into America’s voting system since a similar decision by the court in 2013.
“The court decides this Voting Rights Act case at a perilous moment for the nation’s commitment to equal citizenship,” she wrote. “It decides this case in an era of voting-rights retrenchment – when too many states and localities are restricting access to voting in ways that will predictably deprive members of minority groups of equal access to the ballot box.”
The decision – one of the final opinions of the term – was announced at a critical moment for voting rights in the United States as several Republican-controlled states introduce restrictions on how and when people can vote. It also comes as former president Donald Trump and millions of his supporters continue to claim erroneously that he won last year’s presidential election because of widespread fraud.
The decision may also complicate the department of justice’s decision to challenge new voting laws in Georgia, which was announced by attorney general Merrick Garland last week.
The case had been brought by the Arizona Republican Party and the state’s attorney general Mark Brnovich who had challenged an earlier ruling by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco which found the rules were unlawful. “Today is a win for election integrity standards in Arizona and across the country,” Mr Brnovich said. “Fair elections are the cornerstone of our republic.”