Civil rights groups are calling the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on Monday upholding Ohio's practice of purging voters from the rolls "a setback for voting rights."
In the 5-4 decision (pdf), the court found that the state, which drops people from the rolls if they don't vote and then don't respond to notices to confirm their residency, does not violate the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).
That process, says advocacy group Demos, knocked hundreds of thousands of infrequent voting Ohioans off the rolls in 2015 alone.
"A state violates the failure-to-vote clause only if it removes registrants for no reason other than their failure to vote," Justice Samuel Alito, writing the majority opinion, argued.
According to Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, however, the decision not only "gets the law wrong," but also "sends the wrong message to state officials."
The ruling, she argued, "ignores the long history of purge programs in our country which have been used to unfairly and disproportionately target minority voters."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who joined with the liberal justices in dissenting and also wrote a separate dissenting opinion, spoke to that past as well.
She argued that the ruling from the conservative justices "entirely ignores the history of voter suppression against which the NVRA was enacted and upholds a program that appears to further the very disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters that Congress set out to eradicate."
She added: "Communities that are disproportionately affected by unnecessarily harsh registration laws should not tolerate efforts to marginalize their influence in the political process, nor should allies who recognize blatant unfairness stand idly by. Today's decision forces these communities and their allies to be even more proactive and vigilant in holding their states accountable and working to dismantle the obstacles they face in exercising the fundamental right to vote."
Reminder: In #Husted, the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions decided to abandon its longstanding position that the National Voter Registration Act and the Help America Vote Act prohibit techniques like Ohio’s voter purge. #SCOTUS
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) June 11, 2018
This case is a stark reminder that the Trump administration wants to turn back the clock on voting rights.
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For decades, DOJ considered these purges to be illegal. Under the Trump administration, it flipped sides to support Ohio’s unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote.
— ACLU (@ACLU) June 11, 2018
The ruling was also rebuked by Chair of the Patriotic Millionaires Morris Pearl, who called it "the latest blow in a war over the fate of our democracy. On one side, the people. On the other, the conservative officials and wealthy oligarchs who wants more money in politics and less voting."
Left-leaning lawmakers weighed in as well:
The Supreme Court’s decision to make it easier for Ohio to cross eligible voters off the rolls is a major step backwards for our democracy. Americans should demand that Congress – and the courts – protect the voting rights of all citizens. https://t.co/O67CmMGVC5
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) June 11, 2018
It's a travesty that the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s voter suppression efforts. Instead of making people jump through hoops to vote, states should pass automatic voter registration and same-day registration. Politicians afraid of large voter turnouts are political cowards. https://t.co/XJvrZ7feGY
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) June 11, 2018
This decision is deeply wrong. More than 2 million voters have been purged in Ohio since 2011. Instead of making it harder for Americans to vote, we should have automatic registration and expand early voting. https://t.co/6WPoVEzXtL
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) June 11, 2018
Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, which led the legal team challenging Ohio's voter-removing practice, cautioned against other states seeing the ruling as green light to engage in similar voter purging efforts.
"The fight does not stop here," he declared. "If states take today's decision as a sign that they can be even more reckless and kick eligible voters off the rolls, we will fight back in the courts, the legislatures, and with our community partners across the country."