With less than two months to go before the U.S. presidential election, a number of states are still trying to push through what advocates decry as "thinly veiled discrimination" in the form of restrictive voter identification laws.
Arguments are being heard Monday in Washington, D.C. district court over whether proof-of-citizenship requirements in Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama place an undue, and effectively discriminatory, burden on voters.
In a temporary victory for democracy, those draconian rules were struck down late Friday by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which moved to block the onerous requirements until the final suit is resolved.
The case (pdf), filed in February by the Brennan Center for Justice on behalf of the League of Women Voters, the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda, individuals Marvin Brown and JoAnn Brown, and Project Vote, targets the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) and its acting executive director Brian Newby.
Newby, the case charges, went beyond his authority in allowing those states to alter the voting requirements, and acted despite "longstanding [EAC] policy and precedent that documentary proof of citizenship was not 'necessary for States to assess the eligibility' of a voter registration application submitted on the Federal Form."
"Without the requested relief," the suit warned, "the executive director’s unlawful actions will cause substantial, immediate and irreparable harm" to voters in those states.
"The appeals court decision means tens of thousands of eligible citizens in Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama who do not have passports or birth certificates can still register to vote in the upcoming federal elections," explained Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program and representation for the League. "Hopefully this will put an end to shenanigans in the much-needed federal agency charged with helping to improve our elections. We urge [U.S. District Judge Richard Leon] to make the decision permanent."
Indeed, in the years and months leading up to the 2016 presidential election, numerous states have tried to implement various "schemes," designed to curtail access to the ballot box. And not only are those laws almost exclusively put forth by Republican lawmakers, as Los Angeles Times reporter David Savage noted on Monday, "increasingly, when those laws are challenged in federal court, the outcome appears to turn on whether the judges or justices hearing the case were appointed by Republicans or Democrats."
Judge Leon was appointed by former President George W. Bush.
In a statement celebrating Friday's Court of Appeals ruling, Judith Browne Dianis, executive director for the Advancement Project, lambasted the "politically dubious timing of the now-denied measure."
"Opponents of voting rights and those attempting to silence communities of color are openly trying their best to keep us from the ballot," Dianis said. "This should send a clear message that communities of color, advocates and allies are fighting back and yielding results from North Carolina to Georgia, Wisconsin and across the country."
"With just weeks to go before a critical presidential election, we are grateful to the court of appeals for stopping this thinly veiled discrimination in its tracks," agreed Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the U.S. "We should be making voting easier, not harder."