Arizona Legislators Must Testify About Voting Laws, Supreme Court Rules

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that two Arizona lawmakers must testify about their reasons for supporting state laws requiring proof of citizenship for voting in federal elections.

The court’s brief order gave no reasons, which is typical when the justices act on emergency applications. No dissents were noted.

The Justice Department, the Democratic National Committee, civil rights groups and others had challenged the state laws, saying they violated federal laws and had been enacted with a discriminatory purpose.

After Arizona’s attorney general, Kris Mayes, a Democrat, declined to defend aspects of the laws, Ben Toma, the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, and Warren Petersen, the president of the Arizona Senate, both Republicans, intervened to defend it.

Lawmakers are ordinarily shielded by a legislative privilege from inquiries into their motives for sponsoring or voting for legislation. In September, Judge Susan R. Bolton, of the Federal District Court in Arizona, ruled that a different analysis applied when lawmakers voluntarily injected themselves into a litigation.

“The speaker and president each waived their privilege by intervening to ‘fully defend’ the voting laws and putting their motives at issue,” Judge Bolton wrote, adding that the two legislators could be compelled to testify about their activities.

At first, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked Judge Bolton’s ruling but later lifted its stay, allowing depositions of the men to proceed. The lawmakers then asked the Supreme Court to intervene.

“Unless the court issues an immediate stay,” they told the justices in an emergency application, “the legislative leaders will quickly find themselves between the mythical Scylla and Charybdis: They’ll either need to submit to improper depositions or refuse to do so and expose themselves to potential sanctions and contempt charges. Either choice brings serious consequences that can’t be corrected.”

In response, lawyers for the Democratic National Committee wrote that the lawmakers were trying to have it both ways by arguing that the laws were not the product of discriminatory intent but refusing to be questioned about the matter. That, they wrote, is “wholly foreign to foundational principles of our adversarial judicial system, and to basic fairness.”

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