Impact of Voting Rights Ruling

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The United States Supreme Court ruled against a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That provision required some states, including Arizona, to get pre-clearance from the federal government for changes in election laws. The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission draws maps for congressional and legislative districts. Joe Kanefield, an attorney for the commission, will talk about the impact of the ruling on the commission.

Ted Simons: The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled against a provision in the Voting Rights Act that required some states, including Arizona, to get preclearance from the federal government for changes in election laws. The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission draws maps for congressional and legislative districts and was subject to preclearance. Joe Kanefield, an attorney for the commission joins to us talk about the ruling on the commission. Thanks for joining us.

Joe Kanefield: Thanks, Ted.

Ted Simons: You're thought on this preclearance ruling. Surprised at this?

Joe Kanefield: No. The court had already decided that question a few years before, where they had at least telegraphed that they had some concerns about the viability of the preclearance requirement in a decision about five or six years ago. This decision actually teed it up and struck it down. It does not come as a surprise.

Ted Simons: Preclearance, if you're making any election law changes, gotta get the Department of Justice's federal approval first.

Joe Kanefield: Yes.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, the redistricting commission has to keep federal guidelines in line. What does this ruling do to the commission's efforts?

Joe Kanefield: At this point the maps are done. The commission drew its maps, the congressional and legislative maps. They were precleared by the Department of Justice in 2012, for the first time in state history since we became covered by the jurisdiction. They are the maps that will be used for the rest of the decade. Unless there's a court ruling otherwise they are our maps.

Ted Simons: Is that the only way that could be done, by a court ruling? There's one out there already. By the way, something happen out there?

Joe Kanefield: Today we received a state court action challenging the federal map, the congressional map. The federal court proceeding challenges the state map.

Ted Simons: Convenient.

Joe Kanefield: We have been waiting for a decision on the federal court on whether or not the state legislative map is constitutional. That case was primarily a challenge based on the equal protection clause. Not all the districts were the same population. The argument was because there was a deviation they have to be justified and the plaintiffs don't believe they are. Today we received an order asking for briefing from both parties on the question of what impact or what effect the Shelby County case, the U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down the coverage formula in the Voting Rights Act has on this case. We will now have an opportunity to brief the court on this question over the next three or four weeks.

Ted Simons: There is a possibility that more drawing could be done. If more is done, this ruling does place a factor?

Joe Kanefield: Well, it could, yeah. Remember, at all times during this drawing, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was the rightful idea. If section 5 was no longer the law of the land and we go back to the drawing board, we have to wrestle with what impact this ruling has. Something we mustn't forget under the Voting Rights Act, because section 5 may no longer be effective, section 2 still applies. You can't violate the voting rights, it's still a cause of action.

Ted Simons: So basically you don't have to necessarily get preclearance, but you've still got to follow the rules.

Joe Kanefield: It's shifts the burden to surrender coverages of jurisdiction because any election law, procedure or policy goes into effect you have to prove to the Department of Justice or the federal court in Washington, D.C. it would not have an effect on certain language or minority groups. If someone believes there would be a discriminatory effect on these language minority groups in Arizona, then they could bring an action. If that was the case, the Court would strike it down.

Ted Simons: Regarding these minorities requirements, it looks from a zaps like that would change somewhat. How did those communities of interest apply? Did they become more powerful because of retirement requirements?

Joe Kanefield: Not necessarily. The drafters of the constitutional provisions, the redistricting in Arizona, the way they set forth those provisions you had to complete with the United States Constitution, the Voting Rights Act, respect communities of interest. Competitiveness when practicallable. All of this has to be taken into consideration, not just by this commission but all future commissions while these remain in effect.

Ted Simons: You mentioned this is the first time the maps have been drawn and gotten immediate approval from the Justice Department. Does that suggest this preclearance is somehow needed?

Joe Kanefield: That's a good question. I'm sure certainly people would argument a good argument, they were compelling. The courts below the U.S. Supreme Court should still be in place. My experience as a former election official were that most of the time this requirement prevented us from implementing very technical changes to the law that now would help our elections run much more efficiently. There won't be that burden on the front end that took up some time and a lot of times these election laws and procedureses are put in place initially before the law. My hope is not having the prerequirement law in Arizona will help reducing lines at the pole and stuff like that. Without having that requirement destructing them on the front end.

Ted Simons: Would you be surprised if either of these suits, if either one of those goes back to the commission?

Joe Kanefield: Remember, I'm counsel for the commission.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Joe Kanefield: We've been in court advocating against these lawsuits. We of course take the position that what the commission did was wholly in compliance with the federal and state constitutional requirement as and that the right decision would be to uphold these maps and not force the commission back to the drawing board.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us.

Joe Kanefield: Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us, you have a great evening.

Joe Kanefield:Attorney, The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission;

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