In Voting Rights Case, Supreme Court Upholds Arizona Restrictions The justices, in a 6-3 opinion, narrowed the only major section of the landmark Voting Rights Act that remains in effect.


The Supreme Court Deals A New Blow To Voting Rights, Upholding Arizona Restrictions

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The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 this morning that Arizona's voting laws do not violate the Voting Rights Act.

NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is with us to explain some more. Hi, Nina.


KING: What was this case about?

TOTENBERG: Well, this is certainly the most important case and decision of the term, one that will enable states to dramatically limit the time, place and manner of voting. And it's evidence of what the new conservative supermajority can do, the supermajority that liberals have feared and conservatives have long dreamed of. This case involves the Voting Rights Act, which was hailed by Republicans and Democrats alike as a single - singular achievement of the democratic system of government.

Enacted in 1965, it was reenacted five times by huge bipartisan majorities. But in 2013, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, struck down the key enforcement provision in the act, which required states with a history of discrimination in voting to get clearance in advance from the Justice Department for any changes they were trying to put into the law. And that left only a different section of the law, known as Section 2, to enforce the provisions, the nondiscrimination provisions of the act, which are aimed at making equal access for all voters. And as you said when we started out just a few moments ago, the court today, by a 6-3 vote, has rendered that provision close to a dead letter.

KING: Hmm. So what are the implications of this ruling for other states that might be moving toward restrictive voting laws or already have them?

TOTENBERG: Well, I think the obvious possibilities are that the decision written by Justice Samuel Alito left states with enormous, enormous discretion as to how to write their laws. And as long - and it very much narrowed the possibility for challenging those laws. So, for example, the court said if other states have similar laws, the presumption is that this law likely will be not a violation of the Voting Rights Act. And it said as long as there's equal access means equal access, even if it means it may be more inconvenient and more difficult for some voters. Justice Alito acknowledged that this doesn't mean that all discrimination has been rooted out, but he interpreted the law as so narrow that it will be - make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to challenge most of the provisions in the law.

And Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the dissent for the court's three liberal justices, said that - wrote a very, very angry dissent. And forgive me while I sort pull around to some - to a couple of things that she said. I've got, you know, a long, long, opinions here from the court. And I'm trying to leaf through to the very beginning of the dissent. She says in her dissent that - she says at the end of her dissent that - oops. I'm sorry. I'm missing it.

KING: Oh, no problem.

TOTENBERG: She - let's just - supposed to say that it's - let's just add that it's an extremely, extremely angry dissent. And at the very end, she says, you might think in the way the court has today rewritten this law, that it was talking about some sort of a retirement statute of the narrowest kind. Maybe some think that vote suppression is a relic of history, and so the need for a potent voting rights law has come and gone. Things have - but, she says, here the court basically has eviscerated the voting rights law rather than deferring to Congress the way it's supposed to do.

KING: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thank you, Nina.

TOTENBERG: Thank you.

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