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2019 Roundup: Defending Democracy Through Litigation

With more Leagues engaging in litigation and an increased interest in the work we are doing, each year we track as many cases happening across the country as possible. The League primarily tracks litigation relevant to the campaign to Make Democracy Work which covers four democracy work areas: Voting Rights, Improving Elections, Campaign Finance, and Redistricting. 

Below is a summary the League’s 2019 cases by topic: 

Voting Rights 

League of Women Voters of Wisconsin v. Wisconsin Elections Commission (federal court) 

The Wisconsin League joined registered Wisconsin voters in a suit to prevent the purge of 234,000 voters from the rolls after a state court judge ordered their immediate removal. The purge would violate the 14th Amendment Due Process clause due to the lack of adequate notice and opportunity to cure any address-related discrepancies. 

Hoge v. Padilla (federal court) 

The League, UnidosUS, Mi Familia Vota, and Common Cause have moved to intervene as defendants in a lawsuit brought by three California voters seeking to add “proof of citizenship” requirements to voter registration. The League, represented by Demos, ACLU, and ACLU California, will defend NVRA-mandated voter registration opportunities and expose the discriminatory impact of this lawsuit. 

League of Women Voters of Arizona v. Reagan (federal court) 

Mi Familia Vota, Promise America, and LWVAZ sued the Arizona Secretary of State after discovering the state was requiring voters to "opt in" to voter registration updates when changing their addresses--"opt in" violates Section 5 violations of the National Voter Registration Act. In December, the parties reached a settlement agreement wherein Arizona will comply with the NVRA. 

League of Women Voters of Missouri v. Ashcroft (federal court) 

The Missouri League and the St. Louis and Greater Kansas City Chapters of APRI sued the Secretary of State for its failure to provide voter registration services required in Section 5 of the NVRA. In November, the parties reached a settlement agreement wherein the state will comply with the law. 

Indiana NAACP and LWV Indiana v. Lawson (federal court) 

The Indiana NAACP and LWVIN sued to block a voter purge law that eliminated notice and waiting period requirements for voters flagged under the Crosscheck program. The plaintiffs were granted a preliminary injunction in federal district court, which was upheld by the Seventh Circuit in August. 

Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State (federal court) 

The Texas League joined this case as an organizational plaintiff alongside a Texas voter, George Richardson, and many other civic-minded organizations. Mr. Richardson's signature on his mail-in ballot was rejected, and he was not given an opportunity to cure the discrepancy. This suit seeks to clarify ambiguities in Texas's signature comparison law and secure an opportunity for voters to cure signature rejections. 

Castañon v. United States (federal court) 

LWVDC and LWVUS joined as amicus to support D.C. residents' seeking voting representation in Congress. The plaintiffs sued federal officials for violating the Equal Protection, Due Process, and First Amendment guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. The House of Representatives general counsel also argued in support of D.C. voting rights at oral arguments in November. 

League of Women Voters of Tennessee v. Hargett (federal court) 

Tennessee enacted a bill that invokes criminal and civil fines on third party voter registration organizations, like the League. LWVTN, the American Muslim Advisory Council, Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, Rock the Vote, and Spread the Vote filed suit challenging the law for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments' free speech and due process guarantees. 

Zignego, et al. v. Wisconsin Elections Commission, et al. (state court) 

Three Milwaukee citizens seeking to purge 234,000 registered voters from the voter rolls sued the state’s Elections Commission. LWVWI moved to intervene as a defendant, but was denied by the judge, who ordered the rolls immediately purged. In response, the League filed suit in federal court to prevent the purge, which would suppress hundreds of thousands of votes in a presidential election year. 

Mason-Hobbs v. Texas (state court) 

LWVTX drafted an amicus brief in support of Ms. Mason-Hobbs’ appeal fighting her five-year sentence for mistakenly voting in the 2016 presidential election while on federal release from prison. The state's process punishes individuals who are genuinely confused about their voting eligibility. The outcome will determine whether mistakenly submitting a provisional ballot that was rejected violates Texas law. 

Missouri NAACP and LWVMO v. Missouri (state court) 

The Missouri NAACP and LWVMO sued the state for its failure to fully fund all costs associated with implementing its new voter ID law, including public education, free voter IDs, and poll worker training. Though the lawsuit was initially rejected by the courts, the League appealed to the Missouri Court of Appeals which reinstated the case and remanded it to the lower court. 

Improving Elections 

League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Benson (state court) 

The Michigan League filed suit challenging a law that stipulated that no more than 15% of signatures for initiative petitions can come from any single congressional district. The law would severely burden citizens’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to get questions on the ballot. In September, a judge found large portions of the law unconstitutional. 

In re Constitutionality of 2018 PA 368 and 369 (state court) 

Three Michigan constituents filed suit challenging a 2018 lame duck session law wherein the legislature adopted a successful ballot initiative into law and amended that law in the same session. The plaintiffs argue that the "adopt and amend" procedure is unconstitutional because it undermines the will of Michigan voters as exercised via citizen-led ballot initiatives. The Michigan League is joined by ACLU, American Association of University Women MI, and Michiganders for Fair and Transparent Elections as organizational plaintiffs in this case. 

Redistricting 

Gill v. Whitford (U.S. Supreme Court) 

The League filed an amicus brief arguing that partisan gerrymandering violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The case was dismissed from the U.S. District Court after the Supreme Court concluded that partisan gerrymandering was not under federal courts' jurisdiction (Rucho v. Common Cause). 

Thomas v. Bryant (federal court) 

LWVUS and the Mississippi League joined as amicus in support of three Black Mississippian voters suing the state under a vote dilution claim. Mississippi District 22 was drawn to dilute the vote of Black constituents, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. A three-judge panel at the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision in the plaintiffs’ favors. The case will be heard en banc in January. 

Honorable Mention 

Juliana, et al. v. United States (federal court) 

Twenty-one young people from across the country filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government via the Eugene, Oregon-based organization, Our Children's Trust. At the end of February 2019, LWVUS and LWVOR filed a second amicus brief with the Ninth Circuit Court arguing that the case is unique and timely because the plaintiffs have no other mechanism to seek a remedy as most are not of legal voting age. 

Summary 

This is just a snapshot of the League’s legal cases in 2019. 

*Celina Stewart contributed to this blog.