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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

The Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear a major voting rights case, setting up a clash over states’ handling of absentee ballots.

Why it matters: The court has already invalidated a key section of the Voting Rights Act, even before President Trump solidified and expanded its conservative majority, and is now poised to limit voting-rights enforcement again.

  • The justices will not hear this case until after the 2020 election, but its stakes for future elections are significant.
  • The case concerns voting rules in Arizona. The state does not count votes that are cast in the wrong precinct, and it prohibits "ballot harvesting" — people collecting other people’s absentee ballots.
  • The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that because Arizona’s rules crack down on practices that disproportionately benefit minority voters, they’re illegal.

What they’re saying: Critics say those two rules are unconstitutional and also a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

  • Rejecting out-of-precinct ballots disadvantages people of color because their assigned polling places change more often, the Democratic National Committee said in a brief to the high court.
  • And ballot collection efforts have increased turnout in heavily Hispanic areas.

The other side: Arizona says it has simply adopted race-neutral rules that apply equally to every voter and every part of the state.

  • The Voting Rights Act prohibits states from erecting barriers based on race, the state argues, but that’s not the same thing as requiring states to adopt the voting laws that do the most to increase minority turnout.
  • The 9th Circuit’s ruling, the state argues in a brief, "would imperil nearly every voting rule and practice in the nation, since one can always hypothesize other voting regimes that would increase minority turnout."

The bottom line: Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's conservative majority weakened the Voting Rights Act long before Trump was elected, and will likely continue to give states wide latitude over their voting laws.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 6, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Schumer declares Democratic majority in the Senate

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) declared on Wednesday that Democrats have gained control of the Senate, calling it a "brand new day" in Washington.

The state of play: The AP projected that Rev. Raphael Warnock has defeated Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R). Democrat Jon Ossoff is currently leading in the race against former Sen. David Perdue (R), but the contest is still too close to call.

33 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Jen Psaki: "With that I’d love to take your questions”

In her inaugural briefing as White House press secretary, Jen Psaki said she has a “deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy,” and pledged to hold daily briefings.

Why it matters: Conferences with the press secretary in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room became almost non-existent under the Trump administration. By sending Psaki to the podium hours after President Biden took the oath of office, the White House signaled a return to pre-Trump norms.

Avril Haines confirmed as director of national intelligence

Haines. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Image

Avril Haines was quickly confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday as the director of national intelligence (DNI) in a vote of 84-10.

Why it matters: Haines is the first of President Biden's nominees to receive a full Senate confirmation and she will be the first woman to serve as DNI. She's previously served as CIA deputy director from 2013 to 2015 and deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017.

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