Supreme Court ends term with highly anticipated decisions impacting election security, donor confidentiality

The court ruled along party lines in both of the final two cases of the 2021 term

The Supreme Court released opinions for the two remaining cases of the current term Thursday morning, each with the potential to have long-lasting political impacts.

One involved a California requirement for charities to release names and addresses of their top donors to the state, which conservative groups Americans for Prosperity Foundation and the Thomas More Law Center feared would discourage people from giving.

The court ruled 6-3 on Thursday that the law is "facially unconstitutional." The court sided with the conservative groups, saying that such disclosure requirements infringe on the First Amendment. 

SUPREME COURT SAYS CALIFORNIA RULE REQUIRING NONPROFITS TO REVEAL DONOR NAMES IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

"This demand casts a profound nationwide chill and it does so for no good reason," Derek Shaffer, attorney for the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, said during oral arguments in April.

The fear of having one's name publicly associated with a group that others might deem controversial could result in people choosing not to give, the organizations claimed.

During the arguments, Justice Clarence Thomas illustrated the idea of a chilling effect by asking how it might impact potential donors if an organization had been described by others as racist.

A federal district court had ruled for the nonprofits, which argued that state-held donor information could be hacked, and that names had been made public in the past. 

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS ARIZONA VOTER FRAUD PROTECTIONS

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court's decision, ruling that the standard for evaluating the rule is "exact scrutiny" and not the most rigorous "strict scrutiny." As a result, they ruled that the policy was narrowly tailored to meet the government's interest in protecting against fraud.

Shaffer argued that the policy does not really serve that interest because the information had "only trifling utility."

The Supreme Court's other Thursday opinion addressed Arizona voting rules that are meant to increase election security. One is a law outlawing ballot harvesting, which criminalizes the submission of another person's completed ballot by a third party, other than a family member, caregiver, mail carrier or election official. The other rule disqualifies provisional ballots that are cast in the wrong precinct.

The court upheld Arizona voting rules in a 6-3 decision Thursday. 

The court ruled that neither the policy requiring provisional ballots to be completely disregarded if submitted at the wrong precinct nor the law making it a felony to submit another person’s ballot (with limited exceptions) violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The decision overturned a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Regarding the decision, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said, "Today is a win for election integrity safeguards in Arizona and across the country. Fair elections are the cornerstone of our republic, and they start with rational laws that protect both the right to vote and the accuracy of the results."

The Democratic National Committee claimed that both rules are improper because they disproportionately harm Native America, Hispanic and Black voters, and that they violate the Constitution's First and 14th Amendments for placing an undue burden on minorities' ability to vote. The DNC also claimed that the ballot harvesting law in particular was passed with discriminatory intent.

A district court did not agree with the DNC and upheld the laws, and a Ninth Circuit panel upheld the ruling. A review by the full Ninth Circuit, however, reversed the decision. The court noted that, regarding the out-of-precinct ballot rule, Arizona frequently changes voters' assigned voting locations. The ruling also said minorities in Maricopa County faced this at a higher rate than White voters, and that minorities – as well as young and poor people – frequently change their residence.

Addressing the ballot harvesting law, the Ninth Circuit wrote that "[t]he adverse impact on minority communities is substantial" due to a lack of "reliable and secure mail services" or transportation, and many minority voters "prefer instead to give their ballots to a volunteer."

SUPREME COURT ISSUES BLOW TO UNIONS IN CALIFORNIA CASE ABOUT FARM PROPERTY RIGHTS

The Ninth Circuit ruling was put on hold pending the Supreme Court's decision, allowing the rules to remain on the books for the 2020 election. In December, two Arizona women were indicted for allegedly violating the ballot harvesting law by collecting and depositing four ballots.

The Supreme Court's decision comes at a time when Democrats in Congress are trying to prevent states from passing anti-ballot harvesting laws or many other types of election security measures by passing a sweeping voting reform bill that would control how states conduct their elections. The bill, known in the House as H.R. 1, would allow ballot harvesting and would forbid states from requiring voters to present identification in order to vote.

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In addition to these final decisions issued Thursday, court-watchers are waiting to see if any Supreme Court retirements will be announced. In 2018, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement after the final rulings of the term were handed down. Justice David Souter stepped down at the end of the 2008-2009 term, although he announced his intention to do so in May. 

Many on the left are hoping that Justice Stephen Breyer, 82, will follow in their footsteps and allow President Biden to appoint a new, younger justice who could provide a liberal presence on the high court for decades.

"Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer should immediately announce his intent to retire from the bench," a slate of progressive organizations led by the group Demand Justice said in a statement earlier this month. "With future control of the closely divided Senate uncertain, President Biden must have the opportunity to nominate a successor without delay and fulfill his pledge to put the first Black woman on the Supreme Court."

Fox News' Tyler Olson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.