SCOTUS Denies Cert in GOP Voter Suppression Case

SCOTUS Denies Cert in GOP Voter Suppression Case January 18, 2013

The Supreme Court denied cert, without comment, in an appeal filed by the Republican National Committee to lift a consent decree they agreed to in 1982 requiring the court’s approval before instituting any “ballot security” measures such as voter caging.

In 1981, the RNC created what it called the National Ballot Security Task Force, which sent out letters to 45,000 black and Hispanic voters in New Jersey. They then made a list of all voters whose letters were returned as undeliverable and hired a bunch of armed off-duty police officers, put them in uniforms and had them patrol polling places in minority neighborhoods to challenge the legitimacy of anyone on that list. But they had used an outdated voter registration list to mail those letters, so they had armed “officers” with no legal authority at all, in uniform, harassing and trying to deny the right to vote to people who were entirely legal voters.

The DNC filed a federal lawsuit over this clearly illegal practice and it resulted in a consent decree forbidding the RNC from using such tactics in the future, and it required them to submit any future “ballot security” initiatives to the court before implementing them to make sure they weren’t committing illegal voter suppression again. That consent decree has been reopened several times around the country when the Republican party has used similar “voter caging” tactics in other states (several states in 1987, after which the decree was modified; North Carolina in 1990; New Jersey again in 2002; Ohio and South Dakota in 2004; Michigan in 2008).

In 2008, the RNC tried to get the court to vacate that decree, arguing that changes in the law had made voter fraud far more likely and voter suppression far less likely. The court rejected those arguments:

Voter intimidation presents an ongoing threat to the participation of minority individuals in the political process, and continues to pose a far greater danger to the integrity of that process than the type of voter fraud the RNC is prevented from addressing by the Decree.

The RNC appealed and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling. They appealed again to the Supreme Court, which has now declined to hear the appeal, leaving the lower court ruling in force nationwide. This is an important victory for voting rights.

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