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In voting rights case, GOP lawyer says the quiet part loud

We've arrived at the point at which GOP lawyers simply acknowledge that voter-suppression tactics are an integral part of GOP efforts to win elections.
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A voter drops an election ballot off at the Pitkin County Administration box in Aspen, Colorado, on Nov. 6, 2018.Anna Stonehouse / The Aspen Times via AP

The voting rights dispute pending at the U.S. Supreme Court may seem a little complex, but during oral arguments yesterday, a Republican lawyer unexpectedly made matters surprisingly simple.

At issue is a test of the Voting Rights Act -- or at least what remains of the landmark 1965 law that conservative justices gutted in 2013. As NBC News explained:

The case is about whether two state laws violate Section 2 of the act: One blocks the counting of ballots cast in the wrong precinct, and another prohibits anyone other than a family member or caregiver from collecting and delivering a voter's absentee ballot. On one side is the state of Arizona and Republicans, who want to keep the strict laws on the books and argue they prevent fraud. And on the other side are Democrats, who want the laws stricken and argue the rules prevent voters, particularly minorities, from accessing the ballot.

There are, in fact, two cases -- Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee and Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee -- which have been consolidated at the high court. The GOP-imposed restrictions were rejected last year as impermissible by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but there are widespread fears the justices will reverse course.

But while expectations were already low among voting-rights activists -- this is, after all, the most far-right Supreme Court in generations -- many were nevertheless taken aback during yesterday's oral arguments when Michael Carvin, an attorney representing the Arizona Republican Party, explained his role defending Arizona's voting restrictions.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked, "What's the interest of the Arizona RNC in keeping, say, the out-of-precinct ballot disqualification rules on the books?"

Carvin responded, "Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats. Politics is a zero-sum game."

Or put another way, a Republican attorney tried to defend his state's GOP-imposed voting restrictions by saying they're necessary to help defeat Democrats.

The Arizona Republic's Laurie Roberts added in her new column, "For years, Republican legislators have assured us that their various efforts to make it more difficult to vote were all about protecting the integrity of Arizona's elections. Turns out they're all about protecting themselves. In a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, a lawyer for the Arizona Republican Party actually admitted it."

The candor was welcome, even if the sentiment was not: we've apparently arrived at the point at which Republican lawyers simply acknowledge that voter-suppression tactics are an integral part of GOP efforts to win elections.

Time will tell whether the justices found any of this persuasive, but as Vox's Ian Millhiser explained, a great deal is at stake.

The most important question in the DNC cases isn't whether these two particular Arizona laws will be upheld or stuck down, but whether the Court will announce a legal rule that guts one of America's most important civil rights laws. And there is reason to fear that it will. The Supreme Court doesn't just have a 6-3 Republican majority; it's a majority that includes several justices who've shown a great deal of hostility toward voting rights generally and the Voting Rights Act in particular.

Watch this space.