By BRIAN SLODYSKO and CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats in Congress are facing renewed pressure to pass laws protecting voting rights after a Supreme Court ruling made it harder to challenge Republican efforts to restrict access to voting in many states.
Thursday’s 6-3 ruling in an Arizona case marked the second time in a decade that Supreme Court Conservatives weakened portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a pioneering civil rights law. But that opinion was published in a very different political climate, following President Donald Trump’s lie that last year’s elections were stolen.
Trump’s inventions spurred Republicans in states like Georgia and Florida to enact stricter voting rules under the guise of electoral integrity.
The Democrats on Capitol Hill have already tried to respond with a comprehensive voting and election bill that the Republicans in the Senate jointly blocked last week. A separate bill, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore portions of the voting rights previously weakened by the Supreme Court, was similarly rejected by most Republicans.
These setbacks, combined with the Supreme Court ruling, have made the Democrats feel urgent to act while still holding tight majorities in the House and Senate. But passing voting laws at this point would almost certainly require changes to the filibuster that would allow Democrats to act without GOP support.
“This absolutely increases the pressure to look very carefully into whether the Senate is an institution that can be rendered powerless and dysfunctional,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who backed a voting bill that the House of Representatives passed in March .
Change won’t be easy. A group of moderate Democratic senators, including Sens. Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona, have ruled out a revision of the filibuster. In an evenly divided Senate, their rejection denies the votes necessary to change the procedure.
Thursday’s verdict concerned a case in Sinema’s home state. In a statement by Judge Samuel Alito, the court overturned an appeal ruling that Arizona rules – who can return early ballots for someone else and refuse to count ballots cast in the wrong district – are not racially discriminatory.
Sinema attacked the decision in a statement saying it would “violate the ability of Arizonans to be heard at the ballot box” and reiterated their support for the law. ed last week, in which Sinema argued that getting rid of the filibuster to pass the voting bill would weaken Democrats’ ability to lift voting restrictions in the future when they are no longer in a majority.
Democrats, who say the issue is existential to democracy and who need the support of colored voters in next year’s mid-term election, were quick to condemn the court’s decision.
“If you believe in open and fair democracy and the principle of one person, one vote, today is one of the darkest days in the history of the Supreme Court,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi called the verdict an “unprecedented attack” that gave “the green light to the brutal, accelerating campaign of voter suppression”.
In Florida, President Joe Biden said he would “have a lot more to say” soon, but largely avoided the comment.
The Republicans, for their part, are unwilling to deal with the Democrats on this issue.
“The states created the federal government, and it’s not up to Chuck or Nancy or anyone in Washington, DC, Arizona or anyone else to dictate how to run an election,” said Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, the one party the case said on Fox News.
Many Republicans have dismissed a series of John Lewis Law hearings as “theater”.
“They’re using this because they see a political opportunity,” said Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican who sits on the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. “The more they push this narrative that we are against them and oppressors are against the oppressed, and black against white, it divides the country.”
Questions hang over existing lawsuits challenging electoral laws.
While experts generally agree Thursday’s ruling will make legal challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act more difficult, many of the lawsuits pending this year against GOP-backed laws have separate, constitutional claims. So these lawsuits will continue.
The US Department of Justice’s recent lawsuit against Georgia’s new electoral law challenges Section 2, despite being narrow and alleging the intent of the Republican legislature to discriminate against minority voters. In the Arizona case, the legal challenge centered on whether the laws had a discriminatory effect.
Nonetheless, proponents of voting rights protection were surprised by the breadth of the verdict.
“This verdict is far worse than we expected,” said Wendy Weiser, attorney for the Brennan Center for Justice. “This will put a lot of pressure on Congress and the White House to pass the voting laws.”
And it could encourage more Republican-led states to pursue further restrictions.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who supports the ruling, said: “States can be confident that they can go full steam ahead to strengthen elections and protect voting rights with security measures such as a voter ID and other reasonable measures to make election theft more difficult. “
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