After the 2010 Census found massive growth in Arizona’s Hispanic population, the bipartisan Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission drew new maps that slightly reduced the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate and added two non-white districts. Republicans promptly sued and even tried to oust the redistricting commission’s independent chairwoman for making the political landscape too “competitive.” The commission, in turn, argued that they were simply trying to craft a map that was fair enough to minorities to meet the standards of the Voting Rights Act.
Now, as a federal court weighs the original complaint, the Supreme Court’s decision has handed Arizona Republicans a timely grenade. The commission’s attorney, meanwhile, dismissed this new challenge as legally irrelevant, pointing out that the commission was relying on the law as it stood in 2011.
Should the court agree with the GOP and order new maps before the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans will likely push for maps that will solidify their power for the next decade. Now free of Justice Department scrutiny, Republicans can also marginalize growing minority communities with few consequences. Although the Supreme Court’s decision left in place a provision of the Voting Rights Act permitting voters to challenge racially discriminatory voting laws after those laws take effect, this provision provides far less protection than the one gutted by the Court, which required Arizona to “pre-clear” new voting laws to ensure they do not suppress minority votes. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in her dissenting opinion, “[l]itigation occurs only after the fact, when the illegal voting scheme has already been put in place and individuals have been elected pursuant to it, thereby gaining the advantages of incumbency. An illegal scheme might be in place for several election cycles before a §2 plaintiff can gather sufficient evidence to challenge it.”
Outside of the redistricting process, Arizona has grappled with its fast-changing demographics by passing a phalanx of voter suppression laws aimed at minorities. The Supreme Court recently struck down one such law that would have required election officials to throw out voter registration forms that did not include “concrete evidence of citizenship.” Republicans have also tried to restrict voter turnout efforts in Latino communities.
Another effort makes it easier to remove voters from the permanent early voter list and creates obstacles for minority candidates trying to get on the ballot. This law could be overturned by a popular vote, which some Republicans are trying to block.