WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and partners filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) prohibits states from using a person’s failure to vote in a single election as a trigger for removing voters from the rolls. The brief was filed last week with pro bono counsel Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, as well partners including Rock the Vote, Nuns on the Bus of Ohio, the Texas Civil Rights Project, and the Center for Media and Democracy.
The brief in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, an important case to be argued on November 8th, asserts that the NVRA was designed to prohibit aggressive voter purges like the one used in Ohio in which election officials targeted voters for removal from the registration rolls based on their failure to vote “frequently” enough. Such a process threatens to disenfranchise millions of eligible Americans who choose not to vote in a particular election.
“The National Voter Registration Act was enacted to encourage voter participation and strengthen our democracy. Aggressive voter purges like the one carried out by Ohio strip away the rights of registered voters and stand in clear violation of the NVRA,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “While we remain disappointed that the U.S. Department of Justice, once again, chose to reverse its position in another important civil rights case, we are confident the justices will recognize that Ohio’s voter purge violates federal law.”
“We are pleased to assist the coalition led by the Lawyers’ Committee that seeks to end Ohio’s draconian voter purge system,” said Michael Keats, partner at Stroock & Stoock & Lavan LLP in New York. “Ohio treats the mere failure to vote in a single election as a triggering event for removing registered votes from the voter rolls. That practice clearly violates the NVRA’s express prohibition against removing registrants based solely on their failure to vote.”
Last month the U.S. Justice Department filed a brief in which it reversed the Department’s previous position in the case and opened the door for purge programs across the nation. In its brief, the Justice Department indicates that it has “now concluded that the NVRA does not prohibit a State from using nonvoting as the basis for sending a Section 20507(d)(2) notice.”
However, the NVRA was designed to increase voter registration and turnout rates, specifically in communities of color. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law brief notes that racial minorities are disproportionately affected under Ohio’s removal process, especially after lower turnout midterm elections. In 2014, 67 percent of registered non-Hispanic whites cast a ballot compared to 63 percent of registered African Americans, 56 percent of Asians or Pacific Islanders, and 53 percent of Latinos.
“Congress was keenly aware that the failure to vote is not a reliable indicator whether a registered voter has moved, and for that reason expressly prohibited States from purging voters due to a failure to vote,” the brief states. “Congress thus squarely answered the question of whether the method utilized in Ohio’s Supplemental Process is a legitimate ‘reasonable effort’ for the maintenance of accurate voter registration rolls: it is not.”
A link to the brief can be found here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law:
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 54th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.