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Constitutional Rights & the Public’s Health

Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee

Overview

Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee (U.S. Supreme Court, July 1, 2021): In a 6-3 Opinion authored by Justice Alito, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) and the 15th Amendment against Arizona state voting rules. The Opinion poses potential health impacts, as voting influences structural determinants of health by shaping governmental systems and resulting policies affecting individuals. The challenged rules provide that (1) in-person election day votes cast in the wrong precinct in counties using a precinct system will not be counted, and (2) for mail-in voting, no person other than “a postal worker, an elections official, or a voter’s caregiver, family member, or household member” may “knowingly collect an early ballot.” The Democratic National Committee argued these restrictions disparately impacted Black, Native American, and Hispanic citizens and that the ballot-collecting restriction was enacted with discriminatory intent. The Court, considering the VRA’s language, concluded the touchstone under §2 is whether voting is “equally open.” “Equal opportunity” is not a separate requirement, but rather a means of assessing openness via a totality of the circumstances analysis. In applying this analysis, the precinct-based voting requirement imposed “modest burdens” and its disparate impact was “small” as measured against state interests in establishing and maintaining precinct-based voting; therefore, the requirement did not violate §2. The ballot-collecting restriction similarly did not violate §2 because plaintiffs “were unable to provide statistical evidence showing [it] had a disparate impact on minority voters” as measured against state interests in preventing election fraud, intimidation, and pressure. The Court also reinstated the District Court’s finding that the ballot-collecting restriction was not enacted with discriminatory purpose. Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor, issued a scathing dissent, arguing that the Majority rewrote the broad language of the VRA, cabining it for fear of Congressional language being “too ‘radical.’” The “radical” reading, in the Majority’s words, could potentially invalidate “just about any voting rule a State adopts.” Justice Kagan explained in holding, “the Court has (yet again) rewritten—in order to weaken—a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses.” Read the full Opinion here.

View all cases in the Judicial Trends in Public Health – July 16, 2021.

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