The mission of the League of Women Voters (LWV) is to empower voters and defend democracy. In the first half of 2021, LWV has done just that through a variety of legal cases nationwide.
With major changes to the Supreme Court, including the speedy confirmation of Justice Amy Coney-Barrett and the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the advocacy and litigation efforts at LWV proved more important than ever.
In 2021, defending democracy meant fighting for voter access in Conforti v. Hanlon, against voter purges in Judicial Watch v. North Carolina, and for transparency with money in politics in Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta. LWV also used litigation to bring drop-boxes to communities, accessible ballots to polls, and clear voter information to Americans.
Empowering voters means more than just getting voters to the polls — it's empowering them to see themselves as changemakers and active participants in our government. LWV did this in 2021 by fighting for DC statehood in Castanon v. United States, helping to give a voice to the roughly 700,000 residents of the district.
A true democracy honors the equality of all its citizens. By tackling discriminatory practices, LWV fought for equal rights and opportunities in cases like Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Hamilton v. Dallas County.
Curious about the other cases we tackled? Check out our guide to litigation in the first half of 2021, below.
Promoting a Representative Government
LWV Position: Promote an open governmental system that is representative, accountable, and responsive.
- Castanon v. United States (federal) – LWV has supported DC self-governance since 1938. In 1982, the League adopted the goal of voter representation in both the House and Senate and full home-rule powers for DC. The League appealed the Supreme Court on behalf of DC statehood and the roughly 700,000 residents (about 100,000 more than the population of both Wyoming and Vermont) of the district. More than 50% of the population of DC’s residents identify as members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and other people of color) community. (Last updated: January 12, 2021)
- NUL v. Ross (federal) – LWV of the United States (LWVUS) joined plaintiffs to prevent enforcement of President Trump’s memo forcing the Census Bureau to complete its work early. The "Rush Plan" threatened to force an undercount of all individuals in the US, compromising fair congressional representation and adequate federal funding, disproportionately impacting BIPOC communities. LWVUS won this case. (Last updated: January 15, 2021)
- In re Independent Citizens Commission (state) – LWV of Michigan filed an amicus brief on June 9th in support of the redistricting commission in Michigan. (Last updated: June 9, 2021)
Money in Politics/Campaign Finance
- Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta (formerly Becerra) (federal) – This case challenged a California law that requires 501(c)(3)-(4)s to disclose their large donors as part of their tax reporting. The League filed an amicus brief in support of the California law. This case could have major implications for campaign finance laws, especially in cases of dark money, even though the laws don’t specifically mention campaign finance. SCOTUS struck down the California reporting rule. (Last updated: July 1, 2021)
- Gaspee v. Mederos (federal) – LWVRI filed an amicus brief with the First Circuit challenging Rhode Island's campaign disclosure laws. The case is ongoing. (Last updated: June 9, 2021)
Voter Representation/Electoral Systems
- Brnovich v. DNC (federal) – This case addresses two of Arizona's voting policies, both of which have a disproportionate negative impact on the voting rights of BIPOC communities. LWV filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs. SCOTUS held that the policies do not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act or 15th Amendment. (Last updated: July 1, 2021)
- APRI v. LaRose (federal) – After the primary election, county boards and LWVOH expressed the need for counties to install more than one secure drop-box, both so more voters could drop off their absentee ballot and applications without having to rely on the United States Postal Service, and to reduce in-person lines for early and Election Day voting. Secretary of State LaRose implemented the remedies that we put forward and the case was vacated and remanded. (Last updated: June 22, 2021)
- Conforti v. Hanlon (federal) – This lawsuit raises constitutional challenges to New Jersey's primary election ballot design and ballot placement practices and statutes, which have a disproportionately negative impact on BIPOC candidates. LWV filed an amicus brief in support of plaintiffs. The case is ongoing. (Last updated: June 1, 2021)
- LULAC v. Reagan (federal) – This case challenges the ability of voters to register for federal and state elections with the same form and without documentary proof of citizenship. LWVAZ filed suit and reached a settlement agreement with the Secretary of State. (Last updated: June 4, 2021)
- LWVFL v. Lee (federal) – LWV Florida filed a lawsuit challenging SB90, which increases limitations on vote by mail and criminalizes giving food and water to people who are in line to vote. This bill will greatly affect the voting rights of voters of color, student voters, and elderly voters. (Last updated: June 30, 2021)
- LWVMN v. Simon (federal) – LWV of Minnesota challenged the notary and witness requirement for voting by mail. The case was dismissed. (Last updated: May 13, 2021)
- LWVSC v. Andino (federal) – This was a signature matching case out of South Carolina. Settlement language will be approved and the lawsuit will be dismissed pending the court’s approval. (Last updated: May 14, 2021)
- LWVUS v. Kozinski (federal) – LWVUS and LWV of New York filed a joint case in support of notice and cure processes for ballots. The case was dismissed. (Last updated: June 4, 2021)
- Mississippi Immigrants' Rights Alliance v. Watson (formerly Hosemann) (federal) – LWVUS joined as a plaintiff in this case challenging unnecessary identification requirements for naturalized citizens. Defendants then filed a counterclaim for bringing a frivolous lawsuit. An answer to their counterclaim was filed. This case is awaiting a hearing date. (Last updated: July 1, 2021)
- NAACCP Georgia et al. V. Raffensberger (federal) – LWV of Georgia joined a lawsuit challenging Georgia bill SB202, which targets early in-person voting, voting by absentee ballots, and the use of drop boxes. It also makes it a crime to give food and water to people that are waiting in line to vote. The case is ongoing. (Last updated: March 28, 2021)
- LWVAR v. Thurston (state) – This case challenges the anti-voter legislation passed by the Arkansas legislature during its last session. LWV of Arkansas filed a complaint in opposition. (Last Updated: March 9, 2021)
- LWVKS v. Schwab (state) – This case challenges Kansas's HB 2183 and HB 2332, which criminalizes “giv[ing] the appearance of being an election official,” limits out-of-state actors from mailing Kansas applications for a mail ballot, limits ballot delivery assistance to fewer than 10 ballots, and mandates that election officials match the signatures on advance ballots to a person’s voter registration record. (Last updated: June 1, 2021)
- State v. Mason (state) – LWV of Texas filed an amicus brief to overturn the conviction of Crystal Mason for mistakenly voting as a former felon. The court agreed to review the case with full court. (Last updated: March 31, 2021)
Voter Purges/National Voter Registration Act
- Judicial Watch v. North Carolina (federal) – LWV intervened to prevent the unnecessary purge of North Carolina voters from the voter rolls. Judicial Watch sued North Carolina, claiming violations of the National Voter Registration Act because they allege the state did not properly keep their voter lists and did not provide Judicial Watch/the public with the necessary public information. Voter purges are an anti-voter tactic used to target BIPOC communities. (Last updated: June 14, 2021)
- Flores v. Texas Secretary of State (formerly Richardson) (federal) – This suit is an effort to clarify the Texas law for signature mismatches for mail-in ballots and the absence of a notice and cure procedure for absentee ballots. (Last Updated: June 18, 2021)
- Stringer v. Hughes (federal) – This is a motor voter case in Texas demanding the state offer online voter registration at the DMV website. Mediation on the remaining constitutional claims, which includes the 1st and 14th Amendments, took place and parties reached a settlement. (Last Updated: June 28, 2021)
Protecting the Environment
LWV Position: Promote an environment beneficial to life through the protection and wise management of natural resources in the public interest.
Cases included issues of environmental protection and climate change.
- Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA (federal) – While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is traditionally in charge of the permitting process, there are opportunities for states to take over the process if they can show that they can meet the EPA’s same application process. This is an incredibly high threshold, and only two states have done it in the past (New Jersey and Michigan). Despite not proving their ability to shoulder the burden, Florida took on this responsibility in December 2020. Many local communities were not given the proper chance to comment and take part in the application process. If Florida is allowed to take over the permitting process, it will set a dangerous precedent for other states and potentially causing irreversible damage to local communities and ecosystems. (Last updated: May 24, 2021)
Juliana et al., v. United States (federal) – LWV of the US and LWV of Oregon filed an amicus brief in this case in support of 21 young people who filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government via the Oregon-based organization, Our Children's Trust. The Biden Administration joined negotiations with both parties. (Last updated: May 10, 2021)
Social Policy Cases
LWV Position: Secure equal rights and opportunities for all. Promote social and economic justice and the health and safety of all Americans.
Cases included issues of equality of opportunity, including the Equal Rights Amendment, gender discrimination, education, LGBTQ+ rights, health care, and immigration.
- Cook v. McKee (formerly Raimondo) (federal) – LWV of the US and LWV of Rhode Island filed an amicus brief in the case, in which 12 student plaintiffs are suing the state of Rhode Island to demand a right to an education adequate to prepare students to engage in civic society. (Last updated: June 21, 2021)
- Fulton v. City of Philadelphia (federal) – This was a US Supreme Court case involving Catholic Children’s Services (CSS)’s discrimination against LGBTQ+ parents in the adoption of children in foster care. The Court’s unanimous ruling did not create broad license to discriminate against same-sex couples, but it found that Philadelphia’s refusal to work with CSS was unconstitutional because they had inconsistently applied their system of individualized exemptions across the state’s foster care agencies. (Last updated: June 17, 2021)
- Hamilton v. Dallas County (federal) – Black, female plaintiffs were subjected to a discriminatory scheduling policy that only allowed male officers to take off both weekend days and limited women to weekdays or a single weekend day off. The County argues that this gender-based scheduling policy does not violate Title VII because it does not affect job duties, compensation, or benefits. The LWVUS amicus brief details why this policy is sex-based discrimination under Title VII and harms all women, highlighting the particular harms to women of color and women who are caregivers. (Last updated: May 24, 2021)
- Hecox v. Little (federal) – This case is a challenge to Idaho’s ban on transgender girls’ and women’s participation in sports. LWV of the US signed on to amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in December. The case was vacated and remanded in summer 2021. (Last updated: June 24, 2021)
Lifting as We Climb
We win some cases and we lose some cases. When we lose, it's easy to get discouraged in our work. During those times, it’s helpful to remember this quote by activist Mary Church Terrell, who championed both women’s suffrage and racial equity:
“And so, lifting as we climb, onward and upward we go, struggling and striving, and hoping that the buds and blossoms of our desires will burst into glorious fruition 'ere long. With courage, born of success achieved in the past, with a keen sense of the responsibility which we shall continue to assume, we look forward to a future large with promise and hope."
Whether it's another anti-voter bill making it harder for Americans’ voices to be heard, voter purges that remove thousands of people from voting rolls, or any number of offenses against democracy, LWV stands with the voting rights community as a beacon of hope. When the fight seems hard, lifting as we climb, we continue forward with greater fervor. We did not come this far to just come this far.
You can support our efforts! We need your voice. Take action on League priorities today or find your local League to defend democracy and empower voters within your community. Consider giving a donation to help fuel our fight for an equal democracy.
In doing so, you may find yourself “looking forward to a future large with promise and hope.”
“While today’s decision is deeply disappointing for the LGBTQIA+ community, it is significant that the Court did not create a broad license to discriminate against same-sex couple’s ability to adopt."