This Week in Statehouse Action: Scorn in the USA edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: Scorn in the USA edition

Happy July!

… except it’s not happy.

Or maybe it is!

… in which case, you should stop reading right now.

Because this is gonna be a summer bummer for sure.

Voice of America: Of course, the big news kicking off July is one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s final decisions of the term; specifically, Brnovich v. DNC, a case challenging two Arizona voting laws that had previously been blocked by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals:

  • One that bars counting votes cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county and
  • Another that limits who can turn in another person’s absentee mail ballot on a voter’s behalf.

This lawsuit has been making its way through the courts since 2016, and on Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservatives ruled 6-3 along ideological lines to strike a historic blow against the Voting Rights Act and overturn the 9th Circuit ruling that two voting laws passed by Arizona Republicans had both the effect and intent of discriminating against Black, Latino, and Native American voters.

Campaign Action

  • Because this this ruling significantly increases the extent to which discriminatory effects must be demonstrated for a voting law or procedure to violate the Voting Rights Act, this SCOTUS decision will make it much harder to block laws that have a discriminatory effect on voters of color.

Sounds esoteric, right? But the upshot here is that this decision will have real consequences for those of us paying any attention to election legislation making its way through GOP-controlled legislatures this year.

  • Essentially, Brnovich positions Republicans to have this year’s flood of new voter suppression laws upheld by courts and to pass even more new laws that obscure their racist intent but have clearly disparate effects based on race.
    • … I mean, the GOP already threw that gate wide open this year, but if there’s one takeaway from reading this missive each week, it’s that Things Can Always Be Worse.
  • That 9th Circuit appellate court decision relied on Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that have a discriminatory effect against racial minorities regardless of whether there was an intent to discriminate.
    • The finding of a discriminatory effect is critical because it’s often much more difficult—if not impossible—to prove that lawmakers acted with ill intent, while statistical analysis can demonstrate that a law has a disparate negative effect on protected racial groups.
      • This “effects test” is the key remaining plank of the Voting Rights Act following the Supreme Court’s notorious 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated the “preclearance” requirement that had previously forced many jurisdictions with a history of discriminatory voting laws to obtain Justice Department approval to make any changes to election procedures or regulations. 
    • While SCOTUS didn’t actually strike down the rest of this foundational aspect of the Voting Rights Act and deliver the worst-case scenario of ruling Section Two itself unconstitutional, its decision is still devastating to voting rights and could render what’s left of the VRA effectively useless.
  • All this is to say that the upshot of Brnovich is that it gives states (most of which happen to have Republican-controlled legislatures) tremendous power to roll back expansions of voting rights such as early voting and expanded access to absentee ballots.
    • SCOTUS’ decision still leaves the door open to some voting rights challenges, but don’t get it twisted: Brnovich is a bad decision if you give a flying fig about the right to vote.

The Voting Rights Act still lives, technically, but it’s a mere shade of its former self, and America is a step closer to returning to a Jim Crow voting regime.

American Lie: If the “Brnovich” in Brnovich v. DNC rings a bell with you, as an erudite consumer of this missive, it should!

  • That SCOTUS cased was based on a challenge to Arizona election laws, and Republican Mark Brnovich has served as that state’s attorney general since 2015.

Now he’s busy ignoring Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ requests that he intervene in the abject disaster masquerading as an election “audit” even as he begins his run for U.S. Senate.

Speaking of the Maricopa County election “audit” …

  • Well, first a quick refresher on this disaster, because it’s been a minute:
    • The GOP-majority Arizona Senate got mad that Joe Biden got more votes in Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix) than Donald Trump did, so they demanded that county supervisors turn over millions of ballots and hundreds of voting machines for an “audit.”
    • Maricopa County hired credentialed, reputable firms to conduct two legitimate audits, which found that the election was secure and that votes were correctly and properly counted.
    • Obviously this wasn’t the outcome the Senate wanted, so they cast about and hired a firm that’s seriously called called Cyber Ninjas, which has no experience or expertise in election audits and is run by a guy who posted a bunch of stolen-election conspiracy theories on a Twitter account that he just happened to delete in January.
    • Because this “Cyber Ninjas” firm is actually a bunch of Trump stans practicing spin kicks in footie pajamas, Maricopa County has to buy new voting machines after their existing apparatuses spent a LOT of time in the spectacularly incapable hands of these “auditors,” pretty obviously undermining the integrity of their security.

Despite the fact that this farce was supposed to have concluded in May, it continues.

  • And despite the fact that we’re months into this effort, how the audit is being conducted, the subcontractors involved in the effort, where the money for it is coming from, and what public officials are saying to each other about it are mostly not publicly known.
    • A new lawsuit from The Arizona Republic aims to change that.
      • The newspaper has gone to court to demand this info from the state Senate and Cyber Ninjas (which, after months, I still cannot type with a straight face).

Which, good! It’s beyond absurd that this “audit” process is being carried out with almost no transparency and is being administered by people who were themselves on the ballots that are being “audited” (Arizona state senators).

Meanwhile, recent in-state polling indicates that this sham “audit” might be damaging Republicans in the state generally.

American Squirm: A poll released this week by Bendixen and Amandi International shows that about half of Arizona voters oppose this screwed-up recount.

  • Independent voters oppose the “audit” by 18 percentage points.
    • Further, a majority (51%-44%) favors Joe Biden in a 2024 rematch with Trump.
  • Also in Arizona, GOP Gov. Doug Ducey signed a state budget that includes provisions stripping the secretary of state—who just happens to be a Democrat at the moment—of the power to defend Arizona in election lawsuits and shift that authority to the above-mentioned Mark Brnovich.
    • And just in case you thought this was anything but a baldly partisan power grab, Republicans set the change to expire after 2022—which just happens to be the end of Democrat Katie Hobbs’ current term (they’re hoping a Republican is elected to replace her) and/or before any Democrat who may win the attorney general’s race next year takes office.
    • Stripping her of the authority to handle election lawsuits and giving it to Brnovich both
      • Ensures that Republicans will have the legal standing to intervene in future lawsuits and
      • Prevents Hobbs from settling them or declining to appeal court rulings that strike down voting restrictions.

So yeah, everything’s just GREAT in Arizona these days.

R.O.C.K. in the USA: But it’s July 1, which means a lot of new laws are going into effect in states across the country.

  • Because I’d like to roll into the holiday weekend on a happy note, let’s look at those changes in Virginia, where Democrats have spent the past two years demonstrating the tremendous difference a progressive state government can make for the folks who live there.
    • Here’s a sampling of the new state of play in the Commonwealth:
      • Recreational marijuana is now legal, and previous misdemeanor marijuana convictions are expunged.
      • You can now vote early on Sundays, pre-pay postage for mail-in ballots, and access ballot drop boxes ahead of elections.
      • The Virginia Human Rights Act now includes a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.
      • The death penalty in Virginia is officially abolished (the first Southern state to do so!).
      • Five new gun violence prevention laws are officially on the books, including restrictions on access to firearms for domestic abusers.
      • State employees (including teachers, college, and university faculty) are getting 5% raises. 
      • Local and campus law enforcement is now prohibited from using facial recognition technology.

Good stuff, no?

Okay, hate to write and run, but we all have a holiday weekend to get on with!

I hope yours is utterly fantastic.

Take a break, if you can.

Have some fun, if possible.

You absolutely deserve it.

And the fight will most definitely still be here when you get back.

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