Ninth Circuit Hands Victory to Voting Rights Groups in Public Assistance Voter Registration Case

Release Date: 
September 3, 2015

NEW YORK, NY (September 3, 2015)-- Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a decision reinstating a case challenging the State of Nevada’s failure to provide federally required voter registration services to its low-income citizens.  The case, brought by the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP Reno/Sparks Branch, and NAACP Las Vegas, had been thrown out by the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.

“Today’s decision is a victory for low-income voters in Nevada and the community groups that serve them.”

Voting rights groups Demos, Project Vote, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which represented the plaintiffs along with the law firms Dechert LLP and Woodburn and Wedge, applauded the decision.

“Today’s decision is a victory for low-income voters in Nevada and the community groups that serve them,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos. “The Ninth Circuit’s decision recognizes the fundamental importance of access to the courts in protecting the right to vote. We are pleased that the Ninth Circuit has rectified a miscarriage of justice by reinstating our clients’ voting rights claims.”

In its opinion, the Court rejected Nevada’s argument that the plaintiffs—organizations that conduct voter registration drives in low-income communities throughout the State—were not harmed by the state’s violations of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) and therefore lacked “standing” to challenge them. 

“The Court recognized that Nevada is answerable to community groups that have been forced to pick up the slack for the State’s failure to fulfill its legal obligations,” said Sarah Brannon, Director of Project Vote’s Government Agency Voter Registration Program.

"The Ninth Circuit’s decision brings greater vitality and effectiveness to the NVRA by affirming that grassroots membership organizations such as the NAACP and the National Council of La Raza can bring claims on behalf of themselves and their members across the country,” stated Cornell William Brooks, NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer. “We applaud the court’s decision and look forward to continuing the fight to protect the voting rights and opportunities of all Americans."

Today’s decision also reversed the lower court’s ruling that the plaintiffs had not provided the state sufficient notice of the NVRA violations before initiating the lawsuit.

 “We are thrilled that the Court confirmed that the nation’s leading civil rights organizations have standing to enforce the voting laws, and look forward to ensuring that voter registration is made readily available to all Nevada citizens,” said Neil Steiner, a Dechert partner who argued the case pro bono on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision directs that the case be reassigned to a different district judge, finding that reassignment is necessary to “maintain the appearance of justice.”

“The Court of Appeals has explained in detail why the district judge was wrong to have dismissed this lawsuit in 2012.  We look forward now to ensuring that the clients of Nevada’s public assistance agencies receive the voter registration opportunities required by federal law in the 2016 election cycle and beyond,” said Jon Greenbaum, Chief Counsel of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The case, which was originally filed in June 2012, now goes back to the District Court in Nevada, where the plaintiffs will have an opportunity to prove their claims at trial. 

CONTACT:

Donté Donald, Demos:  (212) 485-6062

Michael McDunnah, Project Vote:  (202) 905-1397

Stacie Royster, Lawyers’ Committee:  (202) 662-8317

Beth Huffman, Dechert LLP: (215) 994-6761