California, along with 16 other states and the District of Columbia, filed an amicus brief Thursday urging the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm a Ninth Circuit decision striking down a set of Arizona election rules on the basis that they discriminated against voters of color.
In January 2020, the Ninth Circuit held in Democratic National Committee v. Hobbs that an Arizona law and a state administrative policy violated the Voting Rights Act. H.B. 2023 criminalized the collection and delivery of another person’s ballot, and the state also had a policy of wholly discarding — rather than counting or partially counting — ballots cast in the wrong precinct.
The en banc court held that both rules had a discriminatory impact on Arizona’s Black, Hispanic, and Native American citizens. It also noted Arizona’s history of race-based voting discrimination and found that H.B. 2023 was enacted to target an increase in ballots cast by Hispanic and Native American voters.
“Prior to the enactment of H.B. 2023, third-party ballot collectors, acting in good faith, collected many thousands of valid ballots cast by minority voters,” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the court’s majority. “White voters rarely relied on third-party ballot collection. The result of H.B. 2023 is that many thousands of minority ballots will now not be collected and counted, while white ballots will be largely unaffected.”
The Supreme Court agreed to review the decision last October. Oral arguments are scheduled for March 2.
In Thursday’s amicus brief, the 18 attorneys general contend that, contrary to the Arizona Attorney General’s argument, election laws that appear to be generally applicable and racially neutral on their face can still violate the Voting Rights Act and result in a discriminatory denial or abridgement of voting rights.
Moreover, the brief argues, the Act’s two-part “results test” imposes “both legal and practical constraints on liability, making reflexive invalidation of any state’s election procedures improbable.”
“Your right to vote shouldn’t be determined by the color of your skin,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “This isn’t about any one state or any one discriminatory law; this is about standing up for protections that are at the core of our pursuit for a more perfect union.”
A spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General’s office could not be immediately reached for comment on the brief.
Becerra is President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. During his tenure as California’s attorney general, Becerra has filed 110 lawsuits against the Trump administration.
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