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Supreme Court takes up Arizona ballot delivery law

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over the constitutionality of an Arizona law restricting who can deliver ballots for voters unable to leave their homes during an election.

The high court granted review to four consolidated cases Friday, which also included challenges involving the Federal Communication Commission’s media ownership rules, immigration removal proceedings and a climate-related case.

One hour has been set aside for arguments in each case. The Supreme Court’s next term officially begins on Monday, though hearings have not yet been scheduled for the new cases the justices have agreed to hear.

The Arizona election law that forbids most non-family volunteers from delivering another person’s ballot to a polling place was struck down by the Ninth Circuit in January. That dispute has been consolidated with a related appeal involving another state law mandating the destruction of ballots cast in the wrong precinct or containing incorrect information.

Writing for the appeals court, U.S. Circuit Judge William Fletcher found Arizona’s ballot destruction law chiefly discriminates against American Indian, Hispanic and Black voters. The Democratic National Committee, along with the Arizona Democratic Party, challenged the law, arguing minority voters are more likely to change their residency frequently and therefore are more likely to show up to the wrong polling place.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, Arizona’s Republican Party said the Ninth Circuit’s ruling expanded the Voting Rights Act “to condemn voting rules that stand in the way of racially proportionate outcomes in voting.” (Emphasis in original).

“This issue is exceedingly important, because the Ninth Circuit’s sweeping view threatens virtually all ordinary election rules, forcing states to fundamentally restructure their voting rules to achieve racial proportionality,” the petition states. “And this is a perfect vehicle for resolving the split, clarifying the law and putting a stop to these misguided challenges, because it arises from a final judgment after a full trial and because the court below stays its mandate to allow for this court’s considered plenary review.”

In a response opposing Supreme Court review, the Arizona Democratic Party said Republicans had mischaracterized the appeals court ruling, noting the Ninth Circuit applied a two-part test to evaluate voter restrictions.

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“The first step of this test examines whether the challenged law disparately burdens minorities, which the Ninth Circuit plainly found here,” the brief states. “Contrary to petitioners’ assertions, however, the Ninth Circuit’s analysis did not end here. The court then moved to the second step of the test and considered… whether the challenged laws interact with historic and social conditions such that minorities have less opportunity to participate in the political process.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said in a statement Friday that he was pleased to see the Supreme Court take up the case.

“There is no higher priority for public officials than to maintain the integrity of elections,” Brnovich said in a statement. “As we contend with a politically polarized climate and battle a global pandemic, we must sustain the cornerstone of our government and ensure the will of the electorate is heard.”

The justices will also hear Federal Communication Commission v. Prometheus Radio Project, a case involving media ownership changes. The dispute focuses on the commission’s decision to halt banning the ownership of TV stations and newspapers within the same market. The Third Circuit ruled last year that the FCC did not do a “meaningful evaluation” on the effect of the rule changes for female and minority ownership. That case has been consolidated with another involving the National Association of Broadcasters.

In addition, the high court agreed to decide an environmental challenge, BP v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, on a procedural issue from the city’s climate change allegations against the company. Specifically, the justices will determine what a federal appeals court can review after a case is removed by district court order to a state court.

Two other cases granted consolidated review by the Supreme Court involve procedural issues for immigration removal. In both Barr v. Dai and Barr v. Alcaraz-Enriquez, the justices will weigh whether appeals court judges can review decisions made by immigration judges about the credibility of testimony from immigrants.

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Courthouse News/Jack Rodgers