Exterior of U.S. Supreme Court building

Courtroom Battles

Access to the Ballot


COVID-19 

NAACP v. USPS

Washington, DC

On August 20, 2020, LDF and co-counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Our suit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, argues that recent changes by USPS were implemented in violation of federal law and have led to widespread disruptions in mail delivery that risk delaying the delivery of mail-in ballots—thereby causing voter disenfranchisement—for the November 2020 election. 

The NAACP, the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights grassroots organization, and its members rely on the timely delivery of the mail for a variety of important functions, including mail-in voting. 

Mays v. Thurston

Arkansas

On March 27, 2020, The NAACP LDF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Black voters and the Christian Ministerial Alliance against Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and Secretary of State John Thurston for failing to take adequate steps to protect the fundamental right to vote ahead of 2020 elections, including the runoff occurring on March 31, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

LDF is asking the Court to immediately order Arkansas to accept absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day (March 31) and received within 10 days of Election Day.

Earlier this month, LDF sent a letter to Secretary Thurston urging him to take steps to protect voters in the current crisis.

Power Coalition v. Edwards

Louisiana

On May 7, 2020, LDF filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana challenging several provisions of Louisiana’s absentee and early voting laws and procedures that, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, unduly and severely burden the fundamental right to vote in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, and four individual voters.

Currently, voters in Louisiana must identify an “excuse” to be eligible to vote by absentee ballot. The Secretary of State has allowed voters with specific underlying medical conditions or who are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 to request an absentee ballot, but does not include any accommodation that would permit all eligible voters who have concerns about contracting or transmitting COVID-19 to receive an absentee ballot.

Louisiana also requires that absentee ballots be signed by a witness to confirm that the identity of the voter matches the ballot. This requirement endangers vulnerable voters by forcing them to leave their home or invite others into their home, increasing the likelihood of infection.

The complaint explains that the expansion of absentee ballot access is also essential because it reduces the number of people who vote in person, which is important to maintain social distancing at polling places. Similarly, the lawsuit seeks to reduce crowds at polling places by advocating for an extension of early voting. On June 23, 2020, the case was dismissed.

Harding v. Edwards

Louisiana

On August 3, 2020, LDF filed another lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana challenging Louisiana’s failure to ensure all eligible voters can vote safely in the upcoming elections amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The lawsuit challenges both Louisiana’s restrictions on the use of absentee mail-in ballots and its reduction of the early voting period from thirteen days during the July and August 2020 elections to seven for the November and December 2020 elections. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP, the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, and three individual voters.

Less than two months into Louisiana’s attempted reopening and roll-back of COVID-19 protection measures, the rate of infection climbed significantly. Despite this increase, Louisiana has failed to extend even the baseline modifications that were in place for the primary and municipal elections to protect voters during the November and December 2020 elections.

Thomas v. Andino

South Carolina

On April 24, 2020, LDF and co-counsel filed a lawsuit on behalf of four voters and the Family Unit, Inc. The lawsuit raises claims under the Voting Rights Act and the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The complaint alleges that, in light of the COVID-19 crisis, the lack of no-excuse absentee voting and the requirement that voters have a witness sign their absentee ballot place discriminatory and unconstitutional burdens on the right to vote. The lawsuit asks the court to block the state from enforcing the requirements while COVID-19 transmission is occurring; issue guidance instructing local election officials to count otherwise validly cast absentee ballots that are missing a witness signature for South Carolina’s primary and general elections in 2020; and conduct a public information campaign informing voters about the elimination of the witness and excuse requirements at this time.

On May 25, 2020, a United States District Court for the District of South Carolina Columbia Division judge ruled to block the South Carolina requirement that forced people who vote absentee to obtain a witness signature. The ruling, which applied to the June primary, made it safer for South Carolinians to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If LDF and co-counsel did not successfully challenge the requirement and it had been allowed to stay in effect it could have disenfranchised tens of thousands of eligible voters who could not risk contact with other individuals to vote in person or obtain a witness signature on their absentee ballot. This case is scheduled for trial in September 2020 in order to secure relief for the November 2020 election.

People First of Alabama v. Merrill

Alabama

On May 1, 2020, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and co-counsel filed a federal lawsuit against Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Secretary of State John Merrill, and others over the state’s lack of safe and accessible voting processes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of People First of Alabama, Greater Birmingham Ministries, the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, and four individual voters with medical conditions that make them especially vulnerable to death or serious illness from COVID-19. The lawsuit requests that the court instruct state officials to make absentee and in-person voting more accessible to protect the health and safety of Alabama voters.

The lawsuit also notes that these measures are particularly important for older voters, voters with disabilities, and African American voters, who have been severely and disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Despite making up around one-fourth of the state’s population, Black people account for 45 percent of Alabama’s COVID-19-related deaths.

On Friday, July 17, 2020, Alabama’s Secretary of State announced that no-excuse absentee voting would continue through the November 3, 2020, elections. The announcement is a massive win in the fight for accessible voting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Secretary’s decision comes after the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and co-counsel, filed a July 6, 2020, amended complaint in People First of Alabama v. Merrill, which alleged that the lack of no-excuse absentee voting endangered the lives of high-risk voters in violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal civil rights laws.

This victory also comes despite the Supreme Court’s July 2 stay order, which temporarily blocked a federal court’s preliminary injunction ruling in favor of plaintiffs.


Formerly incarcerated persons

Gruver, et al. v. Barton, et al

Florida

On May 28, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signed SB7066 into law. SB7066 requires that returning citizens pay all financial obligations specified within a sentencing document before registering to vote; disproportionately harming low-income and racial minority returning citizens based on the well-documented and understood racial disparities in Florida’s criminal justice system and Florida’s racial wealth gap.

Within a few hours of the bill’s signing, LDF, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida, and Brennan Center for Justice filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The lawsuit challenges certain portions of SB7066 on behalf of the Florida NAACP, the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and 10 individual Plaintiffs.

On February 19, 2020, a federal appeals court upheld a ruling blocking a Florida law that created wealth-based hurdles to voting and significantly curtailed Florida’s Voting Restoration Amendment, also known as Amendment 4, which sought to end lifetime disenfranchisement and automatically restore voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians.

The law would have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Florida voters by making the right to vote contingent on returning citizens’ ability to pay all legal financial obligations. On May 24, 2020, a federal court ruled that a Florida law that created wealth-based hurdles to voting was unconstitutional. The May 24 decision was blocked by the 11th Circuit. On August 4, 2020, LDF, with other groups, filed a brief urging a federal appeals court to uphold a decision that concluded a Florida law that created wealth-based hurdles to voting is unconstitutional.


Prison gerrymandering

Holbrook v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania

On February 27, 2020, LDF and co-counsel Ballard Spahr LLP and the NAAP General Counsel’s Office filed a Petition for Review in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court challenging Pennsylvania’s practice of counting imprisoned people where they are incarcerated rather than at their previous home addresses for purposes of state legislative redistricting.

This practice, known as “prison-based gerrymandering,” has the effect of inflating the political power of the predominantly white voters who live in the rural districts where most of Pennsylvania’s prisons are located, while diluting the political power of the largely Black and Latino voters who live in the urban districts from which most of the state’s prison population originates.

Early voting

Allen v. Waller County

Texas

In fall 2018, LDF filed a lawsuit against Waller County on behalf of PVAMU student voters, alleging that the county discriminated against them by adopting and maintaining an early voting schedule for the November 2018 election that limited their access to early voting. Since 2018, Waller has refused to provide on-campus early voting at PVAMU.

On July 15, 2020, the Southern District Court of Texas ruled that Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) students and a PVAMU student-organization will have their day in court to demonstrate why Waller County’s November 2018 early voting schedule violated the U.S. Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Trial is scheduled to begin on Monday, September 28, 2020.

Voter ID Laws

Greater Birmingham Ministries, et al. v. Alabama, et. al

Alabama

In December 2015, LDF filed a lawsuit on behalf of Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Alabama NAACP challenging Alabama’s restrictive photo voter ID law (“HB 19”).  Although Alabama’s voter ID law was passed in June 2011, the State did not begin to implement it until after the Shelby County v. Holder decision in June 2014. 

On January 10, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge L. Scott Coogler issued a ruling dismissing LDF’s lawsuit in Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill. On January 12, 2018, LDF filed a notice of appeal in the lawsuit challenging Alabama’s racially discriminatory photo ID law.

On February 21, 2018, LDF filed an appeal arguing that the district court should not have granted the Secretary of State’s motion for summary judgment and disregarded powerful evidence that the photo ID law intentionally discriminated against and burdened Black and Latino voters.

On July 21, 2020, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion upholding Alabama’s voter photo ID law. On August 10, 2020, LDF filed a petition for rehearing en banc for this lawsuit.

United States v. Texas, et al.; Veasey v. Perry 

Texas

United States v. Texas / Veasey v. Perry is LDF’s more than six-year fight against SB 14, Texas’s restrictive photo ID law, and any legislation that bears the discriminatory taint of that law.  SB 14 was previously blocked through the Voting Rights Act Section 5 litigation in 2012. Following the Shelby County decision in 2013, Texas immediately (and successfully) petitioned to vacate the Section 5 decision.  Consequently, DOJ and LDF, in addition to other private plaintiffs, challenged SB 14 again under Section 2 of the VRA and the Constitution. 

On April 10, 2017, a federal district court found in Veasey v. Abbott that Texas bill SB 14 – the strictest photo ID law in the country – was enacted to purposefully discriminate against Black and Latino voters. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) first challenged and defeated the bill in 2012 under the then-preclearance provision of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in Shelby v. Holder in 2013.

No longer subject to preclearance requirements, Texas immediately moved to implement the law. LDF has since fought vigorously to eliminate it. This is the fourth successive win in this case by Black and Latino voters who have challenged voter suppression efforts in the state. Specifically, the trial court found that “at least one of the substantial or motivating factors behind the passage of Texas’ voter ID law was to discriminate against African American and Latino voters.”

On November 7, 2017, LDF and its co-counsel filed an appellate brief before a three-judge court of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, urging that court to affirm the federal trial court’s finding of intentional racial discrimination in Veasey v. Abbott – a challenge to Texas’ voter ID law. On December 5, 2017, LDF and co-counsel appeared in a federal appeals court to protect successful challenges to Texas’ voter ID law (SB 14), the strictest voter ID law in the country, and its descendant, SB 5.

On April 27, 2018, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that Texas’ current photo voter ID law, S.B. 5, sufficiently remedies discrimination against Black and Latino voters. The decision reverses a lower court order that blocked Texas from enforcing that law and an earlier iteration of it.

Vote dilution

Terrebonne Par. Branch NAACP, et al. v. Jindal, et al.

Louisiana

On February 3, 2014, LDF filed a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments seeking to vindicate the fundamental right to vote for Black voters in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Terrebonne Parish Branch NAACP and four individual Black voters, after six unsuccessful legislative attempts and other advocacy over nearly 30 years to change the voting method in the district.

After an eight-day bench trial in March and April of 2017, the court issued a ruling in favor of Black residents who seek an opportunity to elect a judge of their choice to the state trial court bench, upholding both claims that at-large elections for the judge produce discriminatory results, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and have been maintained for a discriminatory purpose in violation of that statue and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

However on June 30, 2020, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision in the case, ruling against Black residents who sought an opportunity to elect a judge of their choice to the trial court bench. On July 13, 2020, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed a petition for a rehearing en banc.

As the petition details, a panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals erroneously reached the merits of the case before determining a jurisdictional issue and also erred by discounting and ignoring substantial proof of racial discrimination in Terrebonne elections, including an incident where a sitting judge was re-elected under the challenged voting system after appearing in public in black-face.

Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, et al. v. City of Pleasant Grove, et al.

Alabama

On December 13, 2018, LDF filed a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments challenging the at-large electoral system for the City Council of Pleasant Grove, Alabama. The at-large elections for the five-member City Council have ensured that no Black candidate has ever been successfully elected. Pleasant Grove has a well-documented history of racial discrimination in voting, education, employment, and housing.

In City of Pleasant Grove v. United States (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court found that the city had intentionally discriminated when it annexed nearby unincorporated white communities, but not similarly situated Black communities. In October 2019, the court approved a final settlement between Plaintiffs and the City of Pleasant Grove, pursuant to which the City agreed to change its electoral method to cumulative voting, where each voter will be allowed as many votes as there are vacant seats on the City Council.

The new election methods will be implemented beginning with the municipal election scheduled on August 25, 2020.

Christian Ministerial Alliance et al. v. Arkansas

Arkansas

On June 10, 2019, LDF  filed a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, challenging the method of electing judges to the Arkansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, which have diluted the voting strength of Back voters in Arkansas and denied Black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice for decades as no Black judge has ever been elected to either court.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of individual Black voters and two non-profit organizations, Christian Ministerial Alliance and Arkansas Community Institute, which are both dedicated to furthering racial justice in the state of Arkansas and empowering voters.

Jones v. Jefferson County Bd. of Education

Alabama

On December 16, 2019, the district court entered an order granting a joint motion the parties agreed to at the time of filing to resolve this voting rights litigation. The court’s order recognized that the use of an at-large multimember district for the Jefferson County Board of Education discriminated against Black voters in violation of both Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment.