- By Native News Online Staff
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme on Thursday overturned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that two Arizona voting laws discriminate against American Indians, Hispanics and African American voting in the state.
The justices split 6-3 down ideological lines. Republican-appointed justices, now in the majority, concluded that disparate impacts on minority groups would typically not be enough to render voting rules illegal under the act.
At issue were two laws: one bars the counting of provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct; the other bars collection of absentee ballots by anyone other than a family or caregiver.
Today’s ruling raises concerns of more restrictive state voting laws that are aimed to reduce voting by American Indians and other minority groups in the United States.
In Arizona, 80 percent of the voters vote by mail. During oral arguments on this case in March, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said many Native Americans in the state don’t get mail delivery at their homes.
Given today’s decision, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez sees the need for the U.S. Dept. of Justice to review how Arizona voting laws target and single out minority voters, including Navajo voters.
“The opinion ignores the unique challenges that many tribal nations face during every election and does nothing to protect our voting rights and increase voting access,” Nez told Native News Online. “Notably, the Voting Rights Act sought to end practices that deprived equal access to the ballot for minority voters. Congress must provide guidance on how the Court’s should review Section 2 Vote Denial claims, enact the Native American Voting Rights Act, and the For the People Act to protect all voters.“
For O.J. Semans, Sr., executive director of Four Directions, a nonpartisan organization that takes a leading role in Native American voter registration and turnout effort throughout various parts of the United States, Thursday’s decision reflects the Court’s willingness to allow for racial discrimination barriers for Native Americans. Semans says Four Directions, as a Native American organization, has continually fought to remove those barriers Native voters face to participate in the electoral process.
“I am deeply saddened by the Supreme Court’s ruling today in that those intentional racial discrimination barriers we have fought so hard to remove are now being reinstated by the highest court in our land,” Semans said to Native News Online. “This decision once again ensures our people, who have the least, will need to invest more time, effort and money to participate in the backbone of our democracy, which is the right to vote.”
The decision comes one week after the U.S. Senate voted against even considering a voting rights bill, the For the People Act, that would have protected the right to vote from action by Republican lawmakers in over 25 states.
President Joe Biden said in a statement after today’s decision that “democracy is on the line.”
“Our democracy depends on an election system built on integrity and independence. The attack we are seeing today makes clearer than ever that additional laws are needed to safeguard that beating heart of our democracy. We must also shore up our election security to address the threats of election subversion from abroad and at home,” Biden said.
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