Democrats had asked the Supreme Court to stay out of the fight and let the 9th Circuit’s decision stand, and fear that a contrary decision could result in a further weakening of the VRA’s protections by the increasingly conservative court. A 2013 decision by the court in Shelby County v. Holder declared unconstitutional a central component of the law.
The state laws in question ban counting ballots cast in precincts other than where the voter is assigned and restrict other people from delivering a voter’s early ballot. President Trump has denounced what he calls “ballot harvesting.”
Both restrictions are “commonplace election administration provisions used by Arizona and dozens of other States to prevent multiple voting, protect against voter intimidation, preserve the secrecy of the ballot, and safeguard election integrity,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) wrote in his petition to the Supreme Court.
A district judge upheld the restrictions and a panel of the 9th Circuit agreed 2 to 1. But a larger panel overturned those rulings, finding that each provision disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic voters.
Those judges said that the state changed locations of voting places more often in minority communities, leading to voter confusion, and that the rates of discarded “out of precinct” (OOP) votes were far higher in Arizona than in other states. Arizona throws out the entire ballot, even if some races — governor, for instance — are not affected by the precinct location of the voter.
“Between 2008 and 2016, Arizona discarded 38,335 OOP ballots in general elections — all of which were cast by registered, eligible voters,” wrote Washington lawyer Marc E. Elias, representing the Democratic Party.
Judge William A. Fletcher said the ban on collecting ballots also had a greater effect on minority voters, who he said were more likely to be homebound or disabled and also lacking reliable means to vote in person.
“There is no evidence of any fraud in the long history of third-party ballot collection in Arizona,” Fletcher wrote.
Arizona countered that it makes exceptions for ballot-handling by family and household members and caregivers, and that nothing prevents Arizona from taking action to prevent fraud, not just to remedy it.
The cases are Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee and Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee.
The court said it will also weigh in on a suit by officials in Baltimore, similar to those filed in other cities, that seeks to force energy companies to deal with harm caused by climate change.
The mayor and council of Baltimore say the nearly two dozen companies being sued “have known for decades about the direct link between fossil fuel use and global warming, yet engaged in a coordinated campaign to conceal that knowledge; to discredit the growing body of scientific evidence documenting the catastrophic future impacts of fossil-fuel-triggered climate change; and to promote continued and expanded use of their products without providing warnings about these known dangers.”
But the Supreme Court review, at least for now, is not about that. Instead, it is about whether the case should be heard in state or federal court.
The companies in similar suits around the nation have been successful in remanding the disputes to federal court. The cities would rather have their claims heard under state law in state courts.
A federal judge in Maryland ruled in favor of Baltimore, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit affirmed. The companies said that ruling is in conflict with other appeals courts around the country.
The case is BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.
In another development, the court will hear a long-running dispute over whether the Federal Communications Commission can ease restrictions on media companies owning properties in the same media market.
The plans have been thwarted by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
The cases are National Association of Broadcasters v. Prometheus Radio Project and Federal Communications Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project.