Voting Rights and Democracy

Brnovich v. DNC; Arizona Republican Party v. DNC

In Brnovich v. DNC and Arizona Republican Party v. DNC, the Supreme Court considered whether Arizona’s prohibitions on out-of-precinct voting and third-party ballot collection violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Case Summary

Exercising its express constitutional authority to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to prohibit all state electoral regulations that result in citizens being denied equal political opportunities on account of race.  Even if neutrally written and generally applicable, a state voting regulation violates the Voting Rights Act if it causes voters of color to have “less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice.”

Despite this broad prohibition against state regulations that cause discriminatory results, the state of Arizona implemented regulations banning out-of-precinct voting and third-party ballot collection.  Both regulations disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color in that state.  The Democratic National Committee challenged Arizona’s election regulations in court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, held that Arizona’s regulations violated the results test contained in Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  Arizona Secretary of State Mark Brnovich and the Arizona Republican Party asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, and the Court agreed to do so.  Petitioners argued that the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of the Voting Rights Act would render the Act unconstitutional.  CAC filed an amicus curiae brief in support of Respondents, urging the Supreme Court to uphold the Ninth Circuit’s ruling.

Our brief made three key points. First, we explained that the text and history of the Fifteenth Amendment give Congress broad enforcement power to prohibit laws that make it harder for voters of color to exercise their right to vote.  Aware that there are any number of ways states might attempt to prevent voters of color from exercising their constitutional rights, the Framers of the Fifteenth Amendment wrote the Enforcement Clause with sweeping language that empowered Congress to legislate broadly against regulations that abridge the constitutional rights of voters of color.  Second, our brief explained that Section 2 of the Act falls squarely within the scope of its enforcement power as enshrined in the Fifteenth Amendment.  Section 2 permanently bans state electoral regulations that operate to impose discriminatory barriers to access to the political process and cause voters in communities of color to have less opportunities to participate in the democratic process.  By invalidating laws that result in a denial of equal political opportunity and perpetuate past voting discrimination, the Act helps uncover difficult-to-detect, purposeful racial discrimination, which is precisely the aim of the Fifteenth Amendment.  Finally, our brief refuted Petitioners’ claim that states must not account for, and courts should not look to, the discriminatory results of state voting laws.  Protecting voters of color from discrimination in voting opportunities neither limits the state’s authority to ensure the integrity of its electoral process nor implicates equal protection concerns.

On July 1, 2021, the Supreme Court, 6-3, reversed, holding that the Arizona law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Case Timeline

  • January 20, 2021

    CAC files amicus curiae brief

    Sup. Ct. Amicus Br.
  • March 2, 2021

    The Supreme Court hears oral argument

  • July 1, 2021

    The Supreme Court issues its decision

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