July 2, 2021

Supreme Court Rulings

Happy 4th of July weekend! We’re going to take some time to wish America a happy birthday; we’ll be back in full swing Tuesday morning. Pro tip if you’re visiting family in the coming days: mentioning The Flip Side is a great way to defuse tense political debates! ;)

On Thursday, “the Supreme Court issued a major decision on voting rights that will make it more difficult to contest election regulations under the Voting Rights Act. By a vote of 6-3, the justices upheld two Arizona voting provisions that Democrats and civil rights groups challenged as disproportionately burdening minority voters.” The provisions in question bar most third parties from collecting and delivering ballots, and require that ballots cast in the wrong precinct be discarded. SCOTUSblog

Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court “struck down California’s requirement that charities and nonprofits operating in the state provide the state attorney general’s office with the names and addresses of their largest donors.” SCOTUSblog

See past issues

From the Left

The left is critical of both rulings, arguing that they make it easier for states to write discriminatory laws and increase the influence of wealthy donors, respectively.

Regarding Arizona’s voting provisions, ”As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her powerful dissent, the majority ‘founds its decision on a list of mostly made-up factors, at odds with Section 2 itself.’ For instance, whether a state has an interest in combating voter fraud -- miniscule as it is -- should have little bearing on the question of whether a law discriminates among voters. Whether some states have used the same rule for years should also be irrelevant under the law. A law that currently produces a discriminatory effect harms voters in every election.”
Joshua A. Douglas, CNN

“Today’s conservative judges pride themselves on being textualists… As Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. put it just last year, the courts’ focus must never waver from what a statute’s ‘words were understood to mean at the time of enactment.’ Any other approach, even one that ‘sails under a textualist flag,’ Alito lectured, is ‘like a pirate ship’ — inappropriate and illegitimate​​. So it was a shock to see the Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by none other than Alito, stacking one extra-textual constraint after another onto Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act…

“The court’s most astonishing extra-textual move… was its pronouncement that one ‘relevant consideration’ is ‘the degree to which a voting rule departs from what was standard practice’ in 1982, when Section 2 was revised in response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling. Why on earth would that be?…

“The provision never says that. In fact, Section 2’s whole point is to unsettle the status quo, to end voting restrictions that disproportionately harm minority citizens. The provision aspires to move American democracy forward, not keep it fixed forever in 1982… To return to Alito’s metaphor, this is what a judicial pirate ship looks like.”
Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Washington Post

“‘The mere fact that there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote,’ Justice Samuel Alito wrote in an opinion joined by the other conservatives. That is a dismissive wave of the hand at precisely the sort of evidence that Congress told voting-rights plaintiffs to present in court…

“As Justice Elena Kagan pointed out in a dissent longer than the ruling itself, small numbers can make a big difference. In 2020, for example, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Arizona by a little over 10,000 votes — fewer than the state threw out based on the out-of-precinct policy in two of the past three presidential elections…

“Since the court is talking about ‘mere facts,’ the conservative justices might have noted the mere fact that voting fraud, which lawmakers in a number of states claim they are trying to prevent with laws like the ones in Arizona, is essentially nonexistent. As one federal judge put it several years ago, such laws are akin to using ‘a sledgehammer to hit either a real or imaginary fly on a glass coffee table.’”
Editorial Board, New York Times

Regarding California’s disclosure requirements, “Had the court said only that California’s law as applied to those facing a threat of harassment was unconstitutional, it would have been no big deal. But the majority opinion, by Chief Justice John Roberts, is much more troubling. The court held the disclosure law could not be applied to anyone, even those not facing a risk of harassment. He also rejiggered the First Amendment standards to call many other laws into question.”
Richard L. Hasen, New York Times

“As Justice Sonia Sotomayor writes in a dissenting opinion, ‘today’s analysis marks reporting and disclosure requirements with a bull’s-eye.’ The upshot is that wealthy donors now have far more ability to shape American politics in secret — and that ability is only likely to grow as judges rely on the decision in Americans for Prosperity to strike down other donor disclosure laws.”
Ian Millhiser, Vox

Some note that “Once upon a time, American liberals thought that people should be allowed to donate money to charities anonymously to protect them from retaliation for supporting controversial causes. Now it’s conservatives who want to preserve donor privacy, in keeping with their skepticism of campaign finance laws that require disclosure. On Thursday the Supreme Court sided with 1950s liberals and contemporary conservatives, striking down a California law that required charities to disclose the names of the largest donors…

“Progressives are right to think that campaign-finance laws should require disclosure… Nevertheless, protecting donor anonymity to civil-society institutions should still be something liberals care about. Right-wing trolls are just as capable of harassing donors to progressive causes as left-wing trolls might harass conservative donors. Seen through that lens, today’s decision isn’t the loss for liberals that the 6-3 lineup might suggest.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

From the Right

The right supports both rulings, arguing that they protect election integrity and safeguard first amendment rights, respectively.

The right supports both rulings, arguing that they protect election integrity and safeguard first amendment rights, respectively.

Regarding Arizona’s voting provisions, “The first law defines who can legally take a completed ballot to be submitted, limiting that choice to the voter themselves, their family members, or a caregiver. Are the plaintiffs somehow claiming that minority voters don’t have family members or the ability to get to their precinct?…

“The second law rejects ballots cast in the wrong precinct. I’m sure that happens from time to time, but the assumption being made by the plaintiffs seems to be that minority voters aren’t smart enough to locate the correct precinct while their white counterparts can manage the task…

“The plaintiffs had also claimed that officials moved polling locations more often in minority districts, leading to confusion or mistakes. There are already rules in place, however, describing when and how polling locations can be changed. If they have proof that election officials have been violating those laws, the answer isn’t to scrap this law. It’s to investigate and arrest the people doing the switching.”
Jazz Shaw, Hot Air

“Arizona allows all voters to vote by mail or in person for nearly a month before Election Day. Its rules are hardly burdensome based on the totality of circumstances…

“The standard in the Kagan dissent would require states to prove there are no less restrictive means to safeguard elections and strike down any policy with a disparate impact on minorities, no matter how small. Based on the dissent, New York City’s ranked-choice voting system could violate Section 2 because it is biased against low-information voters. Don’t laugh. Progressive groups and City Council members argued this in a lawsuit…

“As Justice Alito writes, the voting regime that liberal Justices want ‘would have the effect of invalidating a great many neutral voting regulations with long pedigrees that are reasonable means of pursuing legitimate interests. It would also transfer much of the authority to regulate election procedures from the States to the federal courts.’”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“While Alito’s opinion declined to adopt a rigid test, its list of five main guideposts for Section 2 cases should make it easier for federal courts to distinguish real, substantial burdens on voting rights from the ordinary inconveniences that come from any system that has rules…

“The most controversial of those factors will likely be the Court’s emphasis on upholding election laws that were already long-standing and widespread when Section 2 was passed in its current form in 1982, rather than requiring that [every] marginal expansion enacted in recent years be immunized from [ever] being repealed…

Brnovich will not bring an end to lawsuits over election and voting laws, nor should it. But it ought to greatly reduce the Democrats’ reflexive recourse to the courts every time the law imposes any rules at all. In that sense, it is a positive step for the rule of law and a setback for efforts to use the legal system to hamstring states from running efficient elections free of fraud, intimidation, or undue delays in counting the votes.”
Dan McLaughlin, National Review

Regarding California’s disclosure requirements, “Nearly 300 organizations signed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of the two right-leaning petitioners, groups that, as Chief Justice Roberts noted, span ‘the full range of human endeavors.’ It’s not often you see agreement among the Pacific Legal Foundation, the NAACP, the Cato Institute, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the National Association of Manufacturers and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals…

“The breadth and depth of this coalition highlight the weakness of Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent. It seems willfully blind to today’s partisan environment and its threats. It airily insists that there is no burden to nonprofits in complying and no risk that donors will be intimidated. Besides, she says, California is capable of keeping the information secure! She wrote these lines a few weeks after someone leaked the confidential tax data of thousands of Americans to ProPublica.”
Kimberley A. Strassel, Wall Street Journal

“The Supreme Court found a ‘dramatic mismatch’ rather than a close connection between California’s ‘dragnet for sensitive donor information’ and its claimed objective of preventing charitable fraud. California had not only previously failed to enforce its Schedule B disclosure requirement, but did not actually use that information when it investigated charities

“Instead, the Supreme Court found that California’s real reason for demanding this information was convenience, to simply have the information ‘close at hand, just in case’ it might be useful. That was not nearly enough to justify the risk that the donor information might be disclosed.”
Thomas Jipping and David Bainbridge, Daily Signal

On the bright side

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