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Voting rights and Breyer’s future in spotlight at U.S. Supreme Court

imageWorld46 minutes ago (Jul 01, 2021 06:05AM ET)

(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view shows the pediment of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S. June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/File Photo

By Andrew Chung and Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As it races to complete its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday is poised to rule on the legality of two Republican-backed voting restrictions in Arizona while observers await word on whether the oldest of the nine justices, Stephen Breyer, will announce plans to retire or remain on the bench.

The court is scheduled to issue rulings at 10 a.m. ET (1400 GMT), with two cases from its nine-month term remaining to be decided. The second one focuses on California’s requirement that tax-exempt charities disclose to the state the identity of their top financial donors.

Breyer, who is 82 and has served on the court since 1994, has faced calls from some liberal activists to step down to enable Democratic President Joe Biden to appoint a younger liberal jurist to a lifetime post on the nation’s top judicial body. He has not given any public indication about his plans.

The term was the first for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed by Republican former President Donald Trump, pushing the court further to the right with a 6-3 conservative majority. Barrett joined the court in October, replacing liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died the previous month.

The voting rights dispute involves two ballot restrictions in Arizona in a case that gives the conservative justices a chance to further limit a landmark 1965 federal law that bars racial discrimination in voting.

At issue are a 2016 state law that made it a crime to provide another person’s completed early ballot to election officials, with the exception of family members or caregivers, and a separate longstanding policy that discards ballots cast in-person at the wrong precinct.

The ruling will be closely watched in light of a spree of new voting restrictions passed by Republican legislators in various states following former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020 found that Arizona’s measures had unlawfully burdened Black, Latino and Native American voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The restrictions were challenged by voting rights advocates and Democrats. The Arizona Republican Party and the state’s Republican attorney general, Mark Brnovich, appealed the 9th Circuit’s ruling.

Democrats have accused Republicans at the state level of enacting voter-suppression measures to make it harder for racial minorities who tend to support Democratic candidates to cast ballots.

The case also raised questions over whether fraud must be documented in order to justify new curbs. Many Republicans have justified new restrictions as a means to reduce voting fraud, a phenomenon that election experts have said is rare in the United States.

Republicans are seeking to regain control of the U.S. Congress from the Democrats in the 2022 mid-term elections.

At issue in the case is a specific section of the Voting Rights Act that bans voting policies or practices that result in racial discrimination. It has been the main tool used to show that voting curbs discriminate against minorities since the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted another section of the statute that determined which states with a history of racial discrimination needed federal approval to change voting laws.

In the donor disclosure case, Democratic-governed California, the most populous U.S. state, has said the donor information is required as part of the state attorney general’s duty to prevent charitable fraud.

Two conservative nonprofit groups challenged the requirement: the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Catholic legal group, and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which funds education and training on conservative issues.

They said their donors could face harassment or threats if their identities are made public. The 9th Circuit in 2018 reversed a federal judge’s ruling in favor of the groups, prompting them to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Voting rights and Breyer’s future in spotlight at U.S. Supreme Court