Supreme Court Decides Brnovich v. DNC (voting rights)

On July 1, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision in Brnovich v. DNC that upheld two Arizona voting policies that make it harder for people—and especially people of color and Native Americans—to vote.

BACKGROUND:
On March 2, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. The case looks at whether two issues of Arizona voting law—restricting out-of-precinct ballots and ballot collection—violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In 2016, Arizona lawmakers passed laws limiting ballot collection and out-of-precinct voting. Ballot collection is an essential tool that rural Native American communities use to make voting accessible to all eligible voters.

At about 17 minutes into the hearings, Justice Sotomayor addresses the voting burdens in Native communities. The points that Justice Sotomayor raises, echo those found in the National Congress of American Indians’ (NCAI) “friends of the court” amicus brief in the case. NCAI’s brief, which was filed by the Native American Rights Fund in January, explains how American Indian and Alaska Native voters face substantial obstacles and documented discrimination as they try to participate in the American democratic process.

Native Americans are entitled to full access to the political process, but failures rooted in devastating policies and discrimination create needless barriers to the ballot.  Services such as post offices and drivers’ license sites require hours of travel, postal delivery and residential addressing is insufficient or completely absent, poorly maintained dirt roads become impassable during November election season, lack of internet and cell phone coverage abound on reservation, and insufficient economic means and transportation make it impossible to access basic government services. There also have been instances of untrustworthy election officials capitalizing on these inequities to disenfranchise voters and undermine Native American political power.  Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act provides much needed protections against this type of systemic voter disenfranchisement.

Read more about the barriers that Native American voters face in the report, Obstacles at Every Turn: Barriers to Political Participation Faced by Native American Voters.

Jeanette Wolfley on Enfranchising Native American Voters

Jeanette Wolfley has posted “You Gotta Fight for the Right to Vote: Enfranchising Native American Voters,” forthcoming in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law.

Here is the abstract:

Five decades ago, the Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since its passage, the Voting Right Act has created the opportunity to vote for many racial and language minorities across the country, and has survived many challenges until 2013. The U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions involving voting rights in its 2012-2013 term. On June 25, 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, a divided Supreme Court struck down Section 4 – a key provision of the 1965 Voting Right Act (VRA) – as unconstitutional. On June 17, 2013, one week before the Shelby County decision, the Court decided another voting rights challenge. In Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc., the Court held that the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) preempted Arizona’s requirement that voters provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. Certainly, this decision was not as symbolic as Shelby County, but nonetheless is significant for minority voters and voters in general. In the aftermath of Shelby County, many voting rights litigators and scholars are contemplating what the case means for the future of Black and Latino minority voting rights across the country. To date, however, scholars’ and practitioners’ reaction to and focus on the Shelby County decision has not considered or identified its impact on Indian voters or reservation residents. Accordingly, this Article seeks to fill the void by examining the Shelby County and Inter Tribal Council decisions and provides some insight and effective responses with regard to their impacts on Native American voters across Indian country.