The two most recent US Supreme Court appointees may have agreed with the moderate justices on a couple of issues this term, but as the last opinions come out this morning, they have reminded us that the Republican Party's anti-democratic policies remain their top priorities.
Despite no evidence of retail election fraud, in 2016 Arizona's Republican majority enacted a law making it a crime to collect ballots from voters. Many voters in Arizona and elsewhere have difficulty making it to the polls, and in some cases, to the nearest mailbox. Ballot collection drives helped ensure they could still cast votes. Given who benefitted most from these drives, no one had any illusions about why Arizona Republicans passed this bill.
The Court today ruled, in a 6-3 decision right along party lines, that this does not violate section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Justice Alito delivered the opinion, which repeats the Republican Party's canards about voting fraud as if channeling the voice of Mitch McConnell:
Finally, the strength of the state interests served by a challenged voting rule is also an important factor that must be taken into account. As noted, every voting rule imposes a burden of some sort, and therefore, in determining “based on the totality of circumstances” whether a rule goes too far, it is important to consider the reason for the rule. Rules that are supported by strong state interests are less likely to violate §2.
One strong and entirely legitimate state interest is the prevention of fraud. Fraud can affect the outcome of a close election, and fraudulent votes dilute the right of citizens to cast ballots that carry appropriate weight. Fraud can also undermine public confidence in the fairness of elections and the perceived legitimacy of the announced outcome.
(Brnovich v DNC, opinion at 19; citations removed.)
He then retreats deep into his epistemological bubble to declare that, even though Arizona has no documented instances of such fraud, and even though it will make it harder for Black, Hispanic, and poor people to cast ballots, the law doesn't really discriminate. Because, of course, the Arizona Secretary of State's office are all, all honourable men:
The State makes accurate precinct information available to all voters. When precincts or polling places are altered between elections, each registered voter is sent a notice showing the voter’s new polling place. Arizona law also mandates that election officials send a sample ballot to each household that includes a registered voter who has not opted to be placed on the permanent early voter list, and this mailing also identifies the voter’s proper polling location. In addition, the Arizona secretary of state’s office sends voters pamphlets that include information (in both English and Spanish) about how to identify their assigned precinct.
The Court of Appeals noted that Arizona leads other States in the rate of votes rejected on the ground that they were cast in the wrong precinct, and the court attributed this to frequent changes in polling locations, confusing placement of polling places, and high levels of residential mobility. But even if it is marginally harder for Arizona voters to find their assigned polling places, the State offers other easy ways to vote. Any voter can request an early ballot without excuse. Any voter can ask to be placed on the permanent early voter list so that an early ballot will be mailed automatically. Voters may drop off their early ballots at any polling place, even one to which they are not assigned. And for nearly a month before election day, any voter can vote in person at an early voting location in his or her county.
(Id. at 26-27, citations removed.)
So, once again, the Republican justices take the position that because the Voting Rights Act has done its job over the years, we don't need the Voting Rights Act anymore. (Kind of like how we taught the Germans a lesson in 1918 and they hardly bothered us after that.)
In her dissent, Justice Kagan expresses no patience for any of this crap:
If a single statute represents the best of America, it is the Voting Rights Act. It marries two great ideals: democracy and racial equality. And it dedicates our country to carrying them out. Section 2, the provision at issue here, guarantees that members of every racial group will have equal voting opportunities. Citizens of every race will have the same shot to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice. They will all own our democracy together—no one more and no one less than any other.
If a single statute reminds us of the worst of America, it is the Voting Rights Act. Because it was—and remains—so necessary. Because a century after the Civil War was fought, at the time of the Act’s passage, the promise of political equality remained a distant dream for African American citizens. Because States and localities continually “contriv[ed] new rules,” mostly neutral on their face but discriminatory in operation, to keep minority voters from the polls. Because “Congress had reason to suppose” that States would “try similar maneuvers in the future”— “pour[ing] old poison into new bottles” to suppress minority votes. Because Congress has been proved right.
Today, the Court undermines Section 2 and the right it provides. The majority fears that the statute Congress wrote is too “radical”—that it will invalidate too many state voting laws. So the majority writes its own set of rules, limiting Section 2 from multiple directions. Wherever it can, the majority gives a cramped reading to broad language. And then it uses that reading to uphold two election laws from Arizona that discriminate against minority voters. I could say—and will in the following pages—that this is not how the Court is supposed to interpret and apply statutes. But that ordinary critique woefully undersells the problem. 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.”
(Kagan Dissent at 1, 3; citations removed).
When a few commentators tut-tutted that the Court "is less one-sided than liberals feared," they missed the point. Justices Barrett and Kavanaugh seem less unhinged than they did at their confirmation hearings, but they never lost their party loyalty. Sure, they upheld Obamacare (for the 17th time); sure, they ruled that children don't lose First Amendment protections just because they say something their school doesn't like. And just as sure, they will vote every single time to limit the franchise, because voting rights have become an existential threat to the Republican Party.
The Republicans' 40-year program of selecting and promoting young, partisan judges continues to pay off. Until we Democrats start using the political power we actually have, the Republicans will continue to drive the United States toward minority corporatist rule that will take decades to undo.