Voting Rights and Democracy

Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, et al.

In Husted v. Randolph Institute, the Supreme Court considered whether Ohio’s practice of purging voters who are registered to vote in federal elections from voter rolls based on a registrant’s failure to vote violates the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA).

Case Summary

In Ohio, a registered voter will receive a confirmation notice from the state if he or she fails to vote within a two-year period. If the voter fails to respond to the notice and then does not vote within the next four years, Ohio will nullify that person’s voter registration and require that he or she register again. In 2016, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute filed suit in U.S. District Court, claiming that this practice violates the NVRA, which prohibits states from removing “any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.” The district court upheld Ohio’s voter purge.  On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision. Ohio asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, and it agreed to do so.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court in support of the Randolph Institute, rebutting Ohio’s claim that a narrow reading of the NVRA is required to avoid constitutional problems.  In our brief, we argued that the text and history of the Elections Clause, which gives Congress final say over the mechanics of federal elections, was included in our nation’s charter to ensure that the states do not interfere with the people’s right to vote for their federal representatives.  In enacting the NVRA, Congress used its Elections Clause authority to prohibit purges targeting inactive voters, concluding that such state action imposed an unjustifiable barrier to the right to vote in federal elections.  The NVRA’s command reflects the basic constitutional principle that individuals may not be stripped of their fundamental rights – including the right to vote – because they do not exercise them. Ohio’s practice of purging voter rolls on the basis of voter inactivity thus cannot be squared with either the NVRA or the constitutional principle that it reflects.

The Supreme Court held, 5-4, that Ohio’s practice of purging voter rolls based on registrants’ failure to vote does not violate the NVRA. As Justice Sotomayor wrote in dissent, the Court’s majority ignored the history of voter discrimination that motivated Congress to act in the first place, and “distort[ed] the statutory text to arrive at a conclusion that not only is contrary to the plain language of the [National Voter Registration Act], but also contradicts the essential purposes of the statute, ultimately sanctioning the very purging that Congress expressly sought to protect against.”

Case Timeline

  • September 22, 2017

    CAC files amicus brief

    U.S. Sup. Ct. Amicus Brief
  • January 10, 2018

    Supreme Court hears oral argument

  • June 11, 2018

    Supreme Court issues its decision