But Paul M. Smith, a lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center, which submitted a brief supporting the challengers, said lower courts had worked out a sensible framework to identify restrictions that violate Section 2.
“It is not enough that a rule has a racially disparate impact,” he said. “That disparity must be related to, and explained by, the history of discrimination in the jurisdiction. Our hope is that the court will recognize the importance of maintaining this workable test, which plays an essential role in reining in laws that operate to burden voting by Blacks or Latinos.”
The two sets of lawyers defending the measures in Arizona did not agree on what standard the Supreme Court should adopt to sustain the challenged restrictions. Mr. Brnovich, the state attorney general, said the disparate effect on minority voters must be substantial and caused by the challenged practice rather than some other factor. Lawyers for the Arizona Republican Party took a harder line, saying that race-neutral election regulations that impose ordinary burdens on voting are not subject at all to challenges under Section 2.
Last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that both Arizona restrictions violated Section 2 because they disproportionately disadvantaged minority voters.
In 2016, Black, Latino and Native American voters were about twice as likely to cast ballots in the wrong precinct as were white voters, Judge William A. Fletcher wrote for the majority in the 7-to-4 decision. Among the reasons for this, he said, were “frequent changes in polling locations; confusing placement of polling locations; and high rates of residential mobility.”
Similarly, he wrote, the ban on ballot collectors had an outsize effect on minority voters, who use ballot collection services far more than white voters because they are more likely to be poor, older, homebound or disabled; to lack reliable transportation, child care and mail service; and to need help understanding voting rules.
Judge Fletcher added that “there is no evidence of any fraud in the long history of third-party ballot collection in Arizona.”