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SCOTUS Ruling Brings Clarity To Voting Rights Act, Upholds Ban On Ballot Harvesting

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The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s ban on ballot harvesting and the state’s requirement of in-precinct voting against a Voting Rights Act challenge in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee Thursday.

In the 6-3 decision authored by Justice Alito, the Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals en banc decision holding both provisions of Arizona law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and in doing so the high court added much-needed clarity to Section 2 claims.

When originally passed in 1965, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibited a “standard, practice, or procedure” that “imposed or applied. . . to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” But following the Supreme Court’s decision in City of Mobile v. Bolden in 1980, that Section 2 only bars “the purposefully discriminatory denial or abridgement by the government of the freedom to vote” on account of race or color, Congress amended Section 2 to prohibit practices that “results in” the “denial or abridgement” of the right to vote.

Congress later added Section 2(b) to the Voting Rights Act and that provision detailed how violations of Section 2 must be shown. As the Supreme Court explained, “it requires consideration of ‘the totality of circumstances’ in each case and demands proof that ‘the political processes leading to nomination or election in the State or political subdivision are not equally open to participation’ by members of a protected class ‘in that its members have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.’”

Following the amendments to the Voting Rights Act, Section 2 had been applied by the courts mostly in the context of “voting dilution claims,” such as in redistricting decisions. In recent years, however, as Justice Alito explained, there have been a proliferation of Section 2 challenges in the lower courts to “generally applicable time, place, or manner voting rules.” But today’s decision in Brnovich represents the first time the Supreme Court has spoken on

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