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In dissent, Kagan calls Arizona voting rights decision a 'tragic' erosion of law

Supreme Court upholds state restrictions on who can collect and deliver a completed ballot.
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WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan denounced the court's ruling Thursday that upheld two election laws in the 2020 battleground state of Arizona that she says will make it harder for minorities to vote.

The court's ruling weakens the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which is meant to "stand as a monument to America's greatness, and protects against its basest impulses," Kagan said in her dissent. "What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about 'the end of discrimination in voting.'"

The Arizona case was considered a test of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark civil rights law. One remaining provision of the law allows lawsuits claiming that voting changes would put minority voters at a disadvantage in electing candidates of their choice.

The 6-3 ruling Thursday, which split the conservative and liberal justices, said Arizona did not violate the Voting Rights Act when it passed a law in 2016 allowing only voters, their family members or their caregivers to collect and deliver a completed ballot.

In her dissent, Kagan argued that the ruling amounts to changing the Voting Rights Act, which legally, only Congress, not the court, is allowed to do.

"Maybe some think that vote suppression is a relic of history — and so the need for a potent Section 2 has come and gone," Kagan wrote. "But Congress gets to make that call. Because it has not done so, this Court’s duty is to apply the law as it is written. The law that confronted one of this country’s most enduring wrongs; pledged to give every American, of every race, an equal chance to participate in our democracy; and now stands as the crucial tool to achieve that goal."

A federal judge in Arizona had rejected challenges to the state law, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, so the state appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the past, the Voting Rights Act required states with a history of discrimination to get permission from a court or the Justice Department before changing election procedures, to ensure that the change would not leave minority voters worse off. But in 2013 the Supreme Court suspended that requirement, ruling that Congress had failed to properly update the formula for determining which states should be covered.

Furthermore, Kagan said in her dissent, a system is not equally open if members of one race have "less opportunity" than others to cast votes, to participate in politics or to elect representatives.

"The key demand, then, is for equal political opportunity across races."