NEOCH v. Husted is a voting rights case in which the plaintiffs are petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review whether private lawsuits can be brought under the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits a state or local government from denying the right to vote or declining a registration application on the basis of an error or omission that is not a matter of a voter’s qualifications. The provision exists to prevent election officials from keeping voters off the rolls for trivial errors in registration and voting forms. The Ohio laws challenged in this case disqualified voters for paperwork errors like writing a name in legible cursive instead of print, omitting a zip code from an address, or missing a single digit from a social security number.
In October 2014, plaintiffs Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), Columbus Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), and the Ohio Democratic Party (ODP) challenged a set of Ohio voting laws that they allege are unlawfully disenfranchising otherwise eligible voters in violation of the Materiality Provision, among other claims.
In June 2016, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Ohio found the voting laws disenfranchised qualified voters, but rejected the challengers’ materiality claim, finding that only the Attorney General of the United States can bring such a claim.
Defendants appealed to the Sixth Circuit, which in September 2016 found partially in favor of the plaintiffs and partially in favor of Ohio on other measures, but again held that the Materiality Provision did not allow private lawsuits. Precedent from the Eleventh Circuit recognizes these suits.
The NEOCH plaintiffs are now petitioning the United States Supreme Court to review whether private lawsuits can be brought for materiality claims. In April 2017, the Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in support of the petition. On June 19, 2017, the Supreme Court denied review in the case.
The Brennan Center’s Brief
The Brennan Center’s brief argues that private lawsuits are vital to the enforcement of voting rights, including the protections covered by the Materiality Provision.
While the federal government should enforce voting rights protections, Department of Justice activity is small compared to the number of successful cases brought by private litigants to protect voting rights. Citizens need to have the ability to protect those rights through their own lawsuits given the resources, and ever-changing enforcement priorities, of the Department of Justice.
Appeals Court Documents
Supreme Court Documents
Petition for Writ of Certiorari (3/6/17)
Order Denying Writ of Certiorari (6/19/17)