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Voting for America v. Steen

The Brennan Center, with the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, filed an amicus brief charging that recent changes to Texas law make it extremely difficult for voter registration groups to sign up new voters, violating the First Amendment and the National Voter Registration Act.

Published: November 22, 2012

In February 2012, organizations dedicated to helping citizens register to vote filed a federal lawsuit challenging burdensome restrictions on voter registration drives in Texas. The Brennan Center, along with the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote, are supporting this challenge as amici.

Texas law regulating voter registration drives is among the strictest in the nation. Texas mandates, under pain of criminal penalty, that any person who wants to help register others to vote by collecting and submitting their applications first be appointed a “deputy registrar.” In addition, Texas prohibits voter registration drives from returning collected forms by mail. In 2011, the state legislature passed new laws that went even further. Under the newly amended laws, only Texas residents can serve as deputy registrars and each deputy participating in a drive must first complete a training — that must also be approved in every county in which they will collect voter registration applications.

The lawsuit argues that Texas law violates the First Amendment and federal law protecting voter registration drives. Specifically, plaintiffs allege the Texas scheme severely burdens their ability to conduct voter registration drives, burdens their ability to effectively express their message about the importance of registering to vote, and limits their association with others seeking to increase political participation, as well as with potential voters.

On August 2, 2012, after the parties submitted evidence in court filings and at a hearing, the federal district court preliminarily blocked the most onerous parts of the law. The court held that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claims that the Texas scheme violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution. The state appealed this ruling and asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for an immediate stay of the ruling. The Fifth Circuit granted a stay and Texas’ laws were enforced for the 2012 election. The state’s appeal on the merits of the preliminary injunction is now pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Together with pro bono partner Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, the Brennan Center, on behalf of itself and the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote — two national, non-partisan organizations that work to increase voter registration — filed a friend of the court brief in the Court of Appeals. The amicus brief to the Fifth Circuit articulates the vital contribution of voter registration groups to a successful democracy, and how Texas’ law — by uniquely and severely restricting their activities — stands out as one of the harshest in the nation. Arguing that the First Amendment activities of these groups deserve close constitutional scrutiny and protection under federal law enacted to encourage voter registration, amici urge the appellate court to uphold the district court’s preliminary injunction and block Texas’ new laws.

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