Republicans Forced To Testify About Voting Laws

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the testimony of two Arizona lawmakers has sparked controversy and raised important questions about voting laws and legislative privilege.

In a brief order, the court stated that the lawmakers must testify and justify their reasoning for upholding state laws that require proof of citizenship for voting in federal elections. The order did not provide any reasons for the decision, a common practice when justices act on emergency applications. Notably, no dissents were noted.

The Democratic National Committee, the Justice Department, civil rights groups, and others had challenged the state laws. They argued that these laws violated federal laws and were enacted with a discriminatory purpose.

Interestingly, Arizona’s attorney general, Democrat Kris Mayes, declined to defend certain aspects of the laws. This prompted Ben Toma, the Arizona House of Representatives speaker, and Warren Petersen, the president of the Arizona Senate, both Republicans, to intervene and defend the laws.

Typically, lawmakers enjoy legislative privilege, which shields them from inquiries into their motives for sponsoring or voting for legislation. However, Judge Susan R. Bolton of the Federal District Court in Arizona ruled that a different analysis applied when lawmakers voluntarily inserted themselves into litigation. She stated that by intervening to “fully defend” the voting laws and putting their motives at issue, Toma and Petersen had waived their privilege. Consequently, they could be compelled to testify about their activities.

Initially, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked Judge Bolton’s ruling but lifted its stay, allowing the lawmakers’ depositions to proceed. Subsequently, the lawmakers sought the Supreme Court’s intervention.

In their emergency application to the court, the lawmakers argued that, without an immediate stay, they would be caught between a rock and a hard place. They would either submit to improper depositions or refuse to do so and face potential sanctions and contempt charges. Both choices carried severe consequences that could not be easily rectified.

In response, lawyers for the Democratic National Committee criticized the lawmakers’ position. They argued that the lawmakers attempted to have it both ways, claiming that the laws were not driven by discriminatory intent while refusing to be questioned. This, they contended, ran contrary to the foundational principles of our adversarial judicial system and fundamental fairness.
The Supreme Court’s ruling has significant implications for the ongoing debate surrounding voting laws and the role of lawmakers in defending legislation. It highlights the fine line between legislative privilege and the need for transparency and accountability in our democratic processes. As the case proceeds, further insights and legal precedents are expected to emerge, shaping the future of voting rights in the United States.