Supreme Court Upholds Voting Restrictions in Arizona
Experts say the move will make it harder for Democrats and civil rights groups to bring legal challenges against the increasing number of restrictive voting laws being implemented by Republican governors.
SCOTUS Rules on Arizona Voting Restrictions
The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld voting restrictions in Arizona in a decision that experts say will make it harder to challenge the increasing number of election laws imposed by Republican-led states.
The 6-3 ruling, which all three liberal justices dissented to, centered around two regulations in Arizona that are common nationwide. The first allows the state to toss out the ballots that are cast in the wrong precinct, while the second restricts people from collecting and returning ballots cast by others — a practice often called “ballot harvesting.”
Republicans in the state claimed the policies were needed to prevent fraud, but Democrats sued in 2016, arguing the restrictions discriminated against minority voters.
An Appeals court ruled in favor of the Democrats last year, finding no evidence of fraud and pointing to data from 2016, which showed that Black, Latino, and Native American voters were two times as likely to vote in the wrong precinct as white voters.
The court explicitly noted that Arizona changed locations of polling locations more often in minority communities, and as a result, the number of out-of-precinct ballots the state tossed was far higher there than in other states.
The judges also ruled that Arizona’s ban on collecting ballots was intentionally implemented to suppress minority voters who are more likely to use collection services due to a number of socio-economic factors, such as the increased likelihood of being homebound or disabled, and lacking means to vote in person.
Voting Rights Act Gutted, Again
In the decision today, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the majority of the highest court said that the rules did not disproportionately impact minority voters.
“Every voting rule imposes a burden of some sort,” Alito wrote. “The mere fact there is some disparity in impact does not necessarily mean that a system is not equally open or that it does not give everyone an equal opportunity to vote.”
In the liberal’s dissent, Justice Elena Kagan accused the majority of undermining the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which forbids racial discrimination in voting.
“What is tragic here is that the Court has (yet again) rewritten — in order to weaken — a statute that stands as a monument to America’s greatness, and protects against its basest impulses,” she wrote. What is tragic is that the Court has damaged a statute designed to bring about ‘the end of discrimination in voting.'”
Those remarks are at the crux of why this decision is so monumental: because it implicates how the Supreme Court will enforce what is left of the Voting Rights Act.
In 2013, the high court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of racial voting discrimination to get approval from the federal government before they could change voting rules.
When that was struck down, all that was left was a provision known as Section 2, which prevented voting provisions that “result in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
Thursday’s ruling is significant because it marks the first time the Supreme Court has evaluated how the final remnant of the Voting Rights Act applies to laws that impact minority groups at a time when the question is front and center in American politics.
The new decision firmly establishes that if a voting law disproportionately harms minority voters, that is generally not enough to render that rule illegal under the Voting Rights Act.
In other words: this is a clear signal that the current Supreme Court will not be inclined to overturn many of the Republican voting laws being proposed and implemented right now that very clearly seek to harm minority voters.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)
Texas State Senate Sets Date for AG Ken Paxton’s Impeachment Trial
The House impeached Paxton on 20 articles, including bribery, abuse of public trust, and dereliction of duty.
The Texas State Senate on Monday adopted a resolution outlining how the impeachment trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) will play out in the upper chamber.
The proceedings, which will be over seen by the Lieutenant Governor, will start no later than Aug. 28. The move comes after the House voted to impeach Paxton on Saturday 121 to 23, with a majority of Republicans voting in favor. The historic vote marks just the third time a public official has been impeached in Texas’ nearly 200-year history. The most recent impeachment was nearly five decades ago.
The decision follows a tumultuous week for Texas Republicans and further highlights the growing rifts within the party.
The divisions first came to a head last Tuesday when Paxton called for Speaker of the House Dade Phelan (R) to step down after he presided over the floor while seemingly intoxicated. Mere hours later, the Republican-led General Investigating Committee announced that it had been investigating Paxton for months.
On Thursday, the committee unanimously recommended that Paxton be impeached and removed from office, prompting a full floor vote over the weekend.
Articles of Impeachment
In total, 20 articles of impeachment were brought against Paxton, including bribery, abuse of public trust, dereliction of duty, and more.
While there is a wide range of allegations, many first surfaced in Oct. 2020, when seven of Paxton’s top aides published a letter they had sent to the Attorney General’s director of human resources.
The letter accused Paxton of committing several crimes and asked the FBI to launch an investigation, which it did.
The staffers claimed that Paxton had abused his office to benefit Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer and friend of Paxton’s who donated $25,000 to his 2018 campaign. Many of the impeachment articles concern Paxton’s alleged efforts to try and protect Paul from an FBI investigation he was facing in 2020.
Specifically, Paxton is accused of attempting to interfere in foreclosure lawsuits and issuing legal opinions that benefitted Paul, improperly obtaining undisclosed information to give him, and violating agency policies by appointing an outside attorney to investigate baseless claims and issue subpoenas to help the developer and his businesses.
In exchange, Paul allegedly helped Paxton by hiring a woman the Attorney General was having an affair with and paying for expensive renovations to Paxton’s home. According to the articles, that swap amounted to bribery.
Beyond Paxton’s relationship with Paul, many impeachment articles also concern how the top lawyer handled the 2020 letter.
In particular, Paxton is accused of violating Texas’ whistleblower law by firing four of the staffers who reported him in retaliation, misusing public funds to launch a sham investigation into the whistleblowers, and making false official statements in his response to the allegations.
The Attorney General also allegedly tried to conceal his wrongdoing by entering into a $3.3 million settlement with the fired staffers. The settlement is especially notable as House leaders have explicitly said they launched their probe into Paxton because he had asked the state legislature to approve taxpayer money to pay for that settlement.
Additionally, the impeachment articles outline several charges relating to a securities fraud case that Paxton was indicted for in 2015 but has not been charged in. The charges there include lying to state investigators and obstructing justice.
Paxton, for his part, has denied the allegations. On Saturday, the Attorney General issued a statement seeking to politicize the matter, claiming his impeachment was “illegal” and a “politically motivated scam.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press) (The New York Times)
Trump Lawyer Notes Indicate Former President May Have Obstructed Justice in Mar-a-Lago Documents Probe
The notes add to a series of recent reports that seem to paint a picture of possible obstruction.
Corcoran’s Notes on Mar-a-Lago
Prosecutors have 50 pages of notes from Donald Trump’s lawyer Evan Corcoran that show the former president was explicitly told he could not keep any more classified documents after he was subpoenaed for their return, according to a new report by The Guardian.
The notes, which were disclosed by three people familiar with the matter, present new evidence that indicates Trump obstructed justice in the investigation into classified documents he improperly kept at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
In June, Corcoran found around 40 classified documents in a storage room at Mar-a-Lago while complying with the initial subpoena. The attorney told the Justice Department that no additional documents were on the property.
In August, however, the FBI raided Mar-a-Lago and discovered about 100 more.
The Guardian’s report is significant because it adds a piece to the puzzle prosecutors are trying to put together: whether Trump obstructed justice when he failed to comply with the subpoena by refusing to return all the documents he had or even trying to hide them intentionally.
As the outlet noted, prosecutors have been “fixated” on Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, since he told them that the former president directed him to move boxes out of the storage room before and after the subpoena. His actions were also captured on surveillance footage.
The sources familiar with Corcoran’s notes said the pages revealed that both Trump and the Nauta “had unusually detailed knowledge of the botched subpoena response, including where Corcoran intended to search and not search for classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, as well as when Corcoran was actually doing his search.”
At one point, Corcoran allegedly noted how he had told the Nauta about the subpoena prior to his search for the documents because the lawyer needed him to unlock the storage room, showing how closely involved the valet was from the get-go.
Corcoran further stated that Nauta had even offered to help go through the boxes, but the attorney declined. Beyond that, the report also asserted that the notes “suggested to prosecutors that there were times when the storage room might have been left unattended while the search for classified documents was ongoing.”
Adding to the Evidence
If real, Corcoran’s notes are very damning, especially considering other recent reports concerning Trump’s possible efforts to obstruct the documents probe.
A few weeks ago, The New York Times reported that Corcoran had testified before a grand jury that multiple Trump employees told him the Mar-a-Lago storage room was the only place the documents were kept.
“Although Mr. Corcoran testified that Mr. Trump did not personally convey that false information, his testimony hardly absolved the former president,” the outlet reported, referencing people with knowledge of the matter.
“Mr. Corcoran also recounted to the grand jury how Mr. Trump did not tell his lawyers of any other locations where the documents were stored, which may have effectively misled the legal team.”
Additionally, the only reason that Corcoran handed over these notes was that he was under court order to do so. Corcoran had refused to turn the materials over, citing attorney-client privilege.
A federal judge rejected that claim on the grounds that there was reason to believe a lawyer’s advice or services were used to further a crime — meaning prosecutors believed they had enough evidence to prove Trump may have acted criminally.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The New York Times) (Vanity Fair)
Homeless Men Promised Money to Pose as Veterans in Anti-Immigrant Scheme, Sources Allege
New York State Attorney General Letitia James said she is reviewing whether to launch a formal investigation into the ruse.
A story that was spread by right-wing media about homeless veterans getting evicted from their hotel rooms to make way for asylum seekers has turned out to be false, according to numerous sources.
Early this month, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced a plan to bus some migrants to hotels in neighboring counties, where they would stay for several months.
Orange County and Rockland County filed lawsuits to block the move, and the state supreme court granted both temporary restraining orders, but many migrants had already arrived. To make room for the incoming migrants, one hotel in Orange County forced at least 15 homeless veterans to leave, media reported at the time.
But several homeless men told local outlets they had allegedly been offered payment if they posed as military veterans staying at the hotel.
Sharon Toney-Finch, head of Yerik Israel Toney Foundation (YIT), a nonprofit that houses the homeless, allegedly masterminded the scheme.
Her associates allegedly rounded up 15 homeless men at a shelter and promised them as much as $200 each if they spoke with a local politician about homelessness. But they told reporters that when they met Toney-Finch at a diner, she presented her real plan. They would speak to a local chamber of commerce instead, the men recalled, and if they weren’t comfortable with telling the lie, Toney-Finch instructed them to say they had PTSD and couldn’t speak.
After fulfilling their end of the bargain, however, they said she never paid them the cash they were promised.
Several of them described the ordeal to media outlets, and reporters soon poked more holes in the story.
The Times Union published a copy of a credit card receipt that purportedly showed a payment of more than $37,000 for rooms at the Crossroads Hotel for the unhoused veterans alongside a copy of what appears to be Toney-Finch’s credit card.
But a graphics expert who examined the documents said the receipt appeared to have been “altered with smudges behind the darker type and [had] different fonts,” according to Mid Hudson News.
A hotel manager also told the outlet he could not find any record of the transaction, and there were no veterans at the hotel and nobody was kicked out.
Local Republican state assembly member Brian Maher, who previously reacted to the fake story with outrage, told The Times Union he felt “devastated and disheartened” when he learned that he was duped.
“She alluded to the fact that, ‘Maybe it’s not exactly how I said it was,’” Maher recalled, describing a conversation with Toney-Finch. “This is something I believe hurt a lot of people.”
New York State Attorney General Leticia James is reportedly reviewing the incident to determine if a formal investigation is warranted.