Voting Newsletter: Supreme Court Poised to Hear Voting Cases in 2015

January 8, 2015

Latest Developments

Supreme Court Poised to Hear Voting Cases in 2015

Supreme CourtA series of high-profile voting rights cases continue to wind their way through the courts — and several could go before the U.S. Supreme Court this year, setting up a showdown over the remaining protections under the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

Here’s a rundown of the major fights:


Advocates Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to hear arguments on the state’s photo ID requirement. A federal judge blocked the law in April last year, ruling the measure violated the Constitution and Section 2 of the VRA because it disproportionately burdened minority voting rights. In a September order, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the ID law to go into effect, but the high court stepped in, saying it could create confusion by being implemented so close to the November election.

North Carolina

In late December, state officials petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a case concerning North Carolina’s controversial voting changes. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals preliminarily blocked two portions of the law before the 2014 election, but the high court reversed that order, allowing the changes to remain in effect. A full trial on the merits is still scheduled for July in district court. The law is being challenged under several provisions of the VRA and the Constitution.


The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider its November decision striking down the two states’ proof of citizenship laws, as they applied to the federal voter registration form. If Arizona and Kansas decide to appeal, the case would move next to the Supreme Court. The Brennan Center represents the League of Women Voters in the case, along with pro bono counsel at Kirkland & Ellis LLP.


The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments this spring on the state’s restrictive photo ID law. A federal judge struck down the measure in October, finding 600,000 registered voters lacked qualifying ID. The requirement, the judge ruled, constituted a “poll tax” and intentionally discriminated against minorities, in violation of both the U.S. Constitution and the VRA. The Supreme Court, however, allowed the photo ID law to remain in place for the 2014 election. The Brennan Center is part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs.

Senate Confirms Election Assistance Commissioners

EAC LogoThe U.S. Senate confirmed three nominees — two Republicans and one Democrat — to the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) before leaving for its December holiday break.

The EAC was established by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and has been without commissioners since 2010. It is an independent and bipartisan agency charged with creating federal voting guidelines, which have not been updated for a decade.

Voting advocates cheered the move, saying new recommendations are critical to help states replace outdated equipment with modern technology. Read a letter from Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg — former co-chairs of a bipartisan presidential panel formed to fix long voting lines — offering three ideas to address voting technology.

State Updates

USA voting map

Alabama – With commissioners confirmed to the EAC, Secretary of State Jim Bennett (R) will push forward with plans to implement the state’s law requiring voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship when registering. The measure passed in 2011 but was never put in place. Similar laws in Arizona and Kansas are currently under litigation.

Florida – The state’s law disenfranchising 1.2 million Floridians living and working in the community has prompted calls for a policy change via legislative action, executive action, and a constitutional amendment.

Georgia The Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigated a voting controversy surrounding absentee ballots, race, and a local school board contest.

Iowa – A commission moved forward last week on a plan to establish online registration, but missed an opportunity to fully modernize the state’s voting system. The new rule would reach those with an Iowa Department of Transportation-issued photo ID. However, nearly 100,000 eligible voters lack this form of ID. The Brennan Center and state allies are calling on the legislature to go further by expanding the online regulations and making electronic registration at agencies mandatory.

Missouri – The ACLU filed suit last month alleging that the method of electing members to Ferguson’s school board is racially discriminatory and violates the Voting Rights Act. The system uses at-large districts, which can dilute minority voting power.

New Mexico – State Rep. James Smith (R) filed a voter ID bill this week.

New York – New York City Councilman Ben Kallos (D) introduced a bill to create an early voting program for local elections. The city’s Board of Elections is also working to expand a pilot program to count votes faster on election night.

Pennsylvania – State lawmakers plan to introduce a series of voter modernization reforms this session, including online registration, early voting, and same-day registration.

Texas – Voter registration groups are worried a rule requiring deputy voter registrars to renew their certification at the beginning of this year will hurt their efforts to register voters. Laws unnecessarily impeding efforts to get citizens registered, combined with a strict photo ID requirement like Texas has, “can be really, really problematic for those interested in making sure our democracy is participatory and inclusive,” Myrna Pérez told the Houston Chronicle.

Virginia – Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) proposed a $28 million upgrade to voting machines for statewide elections this November. “These important investments will ensure a more effective, transparent, and streamlined voting process in the commonwealth,” said U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell (R), who endorsed the plan.

Media Round-Up

  • As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the film “Selma” offers a powerful portrayal of the voting rights march that helped galvanize support for the landmark law. Stars David Oyelowo and Oprah Winfrey appeared on CBS “This Morning” to discuss how recent events show why the VRA is still needed today, citing Brennan Center research on the number of states with new restrictions. “The clubs and tear gas that greeted voting rights demonstrators in Selma 50 years ago have passed from the scene,” explained The New York Times’ Brent Staples. “But measures designed to keep black voters away from the polls are very much with us.”
  • Several commentators said the movie unfairly depicts President Lyndon B. Johnson as an opponent of black voting rights, when in fact he was a strong ally to the cause. One professor cited research showing African-American newspapers strongly approved of LBJ’s record on civil rights matters. The reason for the discrepancy, countered Jamelle Bouie at Slate, is that director Ava DuVernay took creative license to highlight the grassroots over politics, “showing how citizens can expand the realm of possible and give politicians the push — and the room — they need to act.”
  • The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson spoke to two GOP secretaries of state with diverging views on all-mail elections. Kim Wyman praised Washington’s long-running system, saying it helped cut costs, boost security, and increase turnout. Scott Gessler of Colorado, which implemented mail voting last year, said he’s concerned about U.S. Postal Service failures.
  • The Center for American Progress and NAACP LDF released a report last month detailing how new restrictions in 2014 affected voters in five states — Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia.