Three days after the Nov. 6 election, when many Americans happily made voting a memory, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that some legal experts say could lead to the biggest shake-up in voting law in nearly a half-century. The court will weigh a key portion of the Voting Rights Act, a law that has changed little over 40 years and for decades has placed Arizona and eight other states under federal scrutiny for suspected discrimination. Supporters of the lawsuit, which involves an Alabama county, say their efforts could once again put every state and locality on equal legal footing and evaluate anew whether minorities are treated unfairly anywhere.
The Obama administration and other opponents say the case robs Congress of its constitutional authority to oversee voting rights, and could strip away progress made in boosting minority participation in elections.
The case has special relevance to Arizona, which is one of nine states that must get federal approval for any changes that could affect voting rights of minorities, such as Hispanics and Native Americans.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has filed legal papers supporting the Alabama challenge of the requirement. Because of the provision, every conceivable change affecting voting in Arizona must run through Horne’s office, which he said is a constant drain.
“I don’t have any numbers at my fingertips, but I would describe the burden as huge,” Horne said. “If you move a precinct location, you have to get preclearance. The governor’s initiative for a 1-cent sales tax (hike) had to be precleared. All kinds of things have to be precleared that don’t have anything remotely to do with the issue of discrimination and voting, but we have to run them by the government.”