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League of Women Voters of Florida v. Browning

The Brennan Center, civic groups, and Florida voters scored a decisive victory today when a federal judge indicated he will permanently remove controversial restrictions on community-based voter registration drives.

Published: August 29, 2012

On December 15, 2011, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Rock the Vote, and the Florida Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (“PIRG”) filed suit in federal court in Tallahassee challenging Florida’s onerous new restrictions on community-based voter registration drives.

The restrictions challenged in the suit were enacted by Florida legislators earlier this year as part of H.B. 1355, a broad package of election law changes. They include extremely burdensome administrative requirements, unreasonably tight deadlines for submission of completed forms, and heavy penalties for even the slightest delay or mistake.  These restrictions are so unnecessarily harsh that they have forced the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, among other groups, to shut down their voter registration programs in Florida.

On behalf of these civic groups, the Brennan Center, the ACLU Foundation of Florida, and pro bono partners Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and Coffey Burlington asked the court to block Florida’s new restrictions on the basis that they violate both the U.S. Constitution and the National Voter Registration Act.  On March 1, Plaintiffs presented their argument for a preliminary injunction in front of Judge Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida.

The groups’ objections focus on three key effects of the Law. They claim that Florida’s restrictions:

  1. Violate Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected rights of speech and association;
  2. Fail to give individuals and groups fair notice of how to comply with its confusing and unclear mandates; and
  3. Violate the National Voter Registration Acta federal law designed in part to encourage community-based voter registration activity.  The law will restrict the opportunity and ability of citizens and grassroots organizations to conduct voter registration drives, which disproportionately register African-American  and Hispanic Floridians to vote.

On May 31, 2012, after considering the evidence submitted by the parties and hearing arguments earlier this spring, the Court preliminarily blocked enforcement of most of the law, finding that Plaintiffs are likely to win on their claims that the law violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

Civic groups and the state of Florida filed a joint motion for permanent injunction on August 10th after reaching a settlement agreement. On August 29th, Judge Hinkle issued an order stating that he will permanently remove restrictions on community-based voter registration drives once he receives confirmation the case has been dismissed by a federal appeals court.

The League of Women Voters of Florida is also involved in another ongoing suit about Florida’s new voting restrictions in the District Court of Washington D.C.   In that case, in which the Brennan Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the pro bono law firm of Bryan Cave LLP represent the League and the National Council of La Raza, numerous civil rights organizations and individuals including voters and election officials, have intervened to illustrate how the law harms minority voters. See State of Florida v. United States of America for more information.


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