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Supreme Court appears inclined to uphold Arizona voting laws

The Supreme Court heard arguments today involving two laws that regulated voting in Arizona. Reports circulating this afternoon suggest the Court may be inclined to uphold the laws, overturning the 9th Circuit decision which struck them down.

The cases involve two voting regulations in Arizona that are in common use across the country. One throws out the ballots of those who vote in the wrong precinct. The other restricts who may collect ballots cast early for delivery to polling places, a practice President Donald Trump denounced as “ballot harvesting.”…

After Democrats challenged the Arizona provisions, a district judge held a trial and upheld them. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed on a 2-to-1 vote.

But a larger panel of the 9th Circuit reviewed those decisions and said that the way the provisions were applied in Arizona disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic voters.

There’s one additional wrinkle here. The Trump administration had filed an amicus brief arguing that the 9th Circuit was wrong to overturn the two laws. Two weeks ago, the Biden administration sent the Justices a letter saying that while it no longer agreed with the earlier brief it did not intend to file anything else in this case. The NY Times frames this as the Biden administration conceding “the Arizona measures appeared to be lawful.”

The big question at issue is what standard the Justices decide to apply in this case because whatever that is, it could apply to hundreds of other laws around the country. And the Times reports there wasn’t any clear agreement on that point:

Over two hours of arguments by telephone, the justices struggled to identify a standard that would allow courts to distinguish lawful restrictions from improper ones.

The court did not seem receptive to a rigorous test proposed by Mr. Carvin, the lawyer for the Arizona Republican Party, who said that ordinary election regulations are not subject to challenges under Section 2. Most justices appeared to accept that regulations that place substantial burdens on minority voters could run afoul of the law…

Ms. Amunson, the lawyer for Arizona’s secretary of state, urged the justices to strike down the challenged restrictions.

“You have to take a functional view of the political process and look to a holistic view of how it is actually affecting the voter on the ground,” she said.

Justice Alito appeared unsatisfied. “Well, those are a lot of words,” he said. “I really don’t understand what they mean.”

CNN’s legal analyst says this is one area of the law where the more moderate Chief Justice Roberts is likely to be in agreement with his more conservative colleagues. So it very much sounds as if this is going to be a 6-3 decision to uphold the Arizona laws and overturn the 9th Circuit decision.