Stroock Wins Major Voting Rights Case
New York, NY, September 12, 2016 — A litigation team led by Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP won a major victory September 9th in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on behalf of the National League of Women Voters and the Alabama, Kansas and Georgia Leagues of Women Voters. The result will allow tens of thousands of voters across three states who faced mass disenfranchisement to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
The Court of Appeals entered a preliminary injunction against the U.S. Election Assistance Commission from giving effect to the January 29, 2016 decisions of its Executive Director, Brian Newby, approving requests by Kansas, Alabama and Georgia to add a proof of U.S. citizenship requirement to the National Mail Voter Registration Form (the “federal form”).
The Stroock Pro Bono team was led by partner Michael Keats and included Joel Dodge, Chelsea Goulet and Amelia Schmidt.
League of Women Voters v. Newby Matter Details:
On January 29, 2016, the Executive Director of the EAC, without prior notice or opportunity to comment, and without explanation, granted requests by the Secretaries of State of Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas to allow the three states to require citizenship documents for voter registration applicants using the federal form. If the documents, such as birth certificates or passports, are not provided, Americans would be denied the fundamental right to vote. Documentary proof of citizenship significantly burdens voting rights, particularly the rights of poor, minority, and critically for the League, even women voters whose married names often do not match their birth certificates. The federal form was designed by Congress as “backstop” to guarantee a “simple means of registering to vote” in federal elections no matter what “procedural hurdles” states may throw in the way, and already requires applicants to swear that they are U.S. citizens under penalty of perjury. The Executive Director also immediately changed the federal form and added the states’ documentary proof requirements, thus imposing the documentary proof requirement immediately.
The League brought suit shortly thereafter against the EAC and its Executive Director under the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Voter Registration Act and moved to preliminarily and permanently enjoin the agency’s actions. Among other grounds for relief, the League argued that the Executive Director’s actions were unauthorized because he failed to obtain the approval of three of the four EAC commissioners before taking these actions as required by the EAC’s governing statute. The EAC is a bipartisan commission with two Republican and two Democratic Commissioners. By acting unilaterally, the Executive Director circumvented the bipartisanship that Congress built into the EAC’s structure. The League also argued that the Executive Director’s actions violated the APA’s requirements to provide reasoned decisions explaining regulatory actions, as well as the APA’s notice and comment rulemaking procedures.
The lower court denied the preliminary injunction on grounds that the League had not demonstrated irreparable harm, becoming the first court in modern U.S. history to hold that imposing requirements that even the court conceded were tantamount to applying for a U.S. passport did not impermissibly burden fundamental voting rights or the ability of the League to conduct voter registration drives.
Mr. Keats argued the expedited appeal before a 3-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit on September 8, 2016, explaining that the Executive Director’s actions “turned the EAC’s organization chart on its head,” “threatened the mass disenfranchisement of thousands of voters on the eve of a presidential election,” and “failed to acknowledge that the League sought to register all eligible voters, not just the one out of three Americans who happened to hold U.S. passports.” The D.C. Circuit not only reversed the district court, but also directly entered the preliminary injunction requested by the League without further remand to the district court.
The pro bono Stroock team worked closely with co-counsel, The Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, and led a plaintiff coalition that also included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Georgia Chapter of the NAACP, Project Vote, and two individual Kansas voters, Marvin and Joanne Brown.
Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP is a law firm providing transactional, regulatory and litigation guidance to leading financial institutions, multinational corporations, investment funds and entrepreneurs in the U.S. and abroad. Our emphasis on excellence and innovation has enabled us to maintain long-term relationships with our clients and made us one of the nation’s leading law firms for almost 140 years. Stroock’s practice areas include capital markets/securities, commercial finance, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, private equity, private funds, commodities and derivatives, employment law and benefits, energy and project finance, entertainment, environmental law, financial restructuring, financial services litigation, government relations, insurance, intellectual property, investment management, litigation, national security/CFIUS, personal client services, real estate, structured finance and tax. The firm has offices in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and Miami.