Gila County and other Arizona jurisdictions will escape automatic federal oversight of redistricting and other election decisions as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the federal Voting Rights Act.
Republicans mostly greeted the ruling with glee, while many Democrats and minority advocates expressed dismay.
The decision marks the third election law controversy in recent weeks to draw sharply contrasting reactions from the two major parties.
The narrowly divided high court first called the law designed mostly to prevent discrimination against blacks in the south a “resounding success,” then declared unconstitutional a key provisions that required states with a history of discrimination to undergo U.S. Justice Department review of voting law changes.
Virtually all of the southern states plus Arizona have for years had to seek such a federal review. Arizona found itself on the list after federal courts ruled district boundaries in Maricopa County had been gerrymandered to limit the clout of Hispanics at the polls.
As a result of those decisions, Gila County had to go through a much more complex process two years ago when it changed district lines for local offices. The county hired a consultant to draw up the lines, mostly to keep the Justice Department from ruling the lines diluted the influence of either Hispanics or Native Americans.
The reaction to the ruling in the state fell mostly along party lines.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott), who represents Rim Country in Congress, said the “Supreme Court decision is an encouraging step toward restoring constitutional order. The Supreme Court recognized that states have the ability to run fair elections and today’s political realities do not justify such an assault on federalism.”
The Arizona Republican Party said “it’s a decision that every voter in Arizona should celebrate. The court ruled that Arizona no longer needs ‘preclearance,’ and that state officials can now make essential voting procedure changes without having to obtain the permission from the U.S. Department of Justice.”
However, Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Bill Roe was “dismayed and saddened” by the ruling. “The Voting Rights Act has been a vital safeguard in protecting the integrity of the ballot box. Today the court may have removed that safeguard making elections more vulnerable to manipulations of partisan politicians.”
Adopted in 1965, the law has allowed the U.S. Justice Department to intervene hundreds of times to prevent the implementation of laws deemed to undercut minority voting rights. A Republican-controlled House and Senate almost unanimously re-authorized it in 2006.
Chief Justice John Roberts said the law had boosted minority voter participation to nearly the same rate as whites. However, the law continued to rely on past problems when it came to singling out states for preclearance. He concluded Congress should rewrite the law to determine which states need continuing review. “In light of current conditions, it cannot rely simply on the past,” wrote Roberts.
Writing for the court minority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg denounced the majority for “hubris” and said the court majority shouldn’t substitute its judgment for that of Congress.