“Sonia Sotomayor’s Dissent in the Big Voter Purge Case Points to How the Law Might Still Be Struck Down”

I have written this piece for Slate. It begins:

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld a controversial Ohio voter purge law which allows the state to begin the process of removing voters from the rolls based upon their failure to vote in a single election. No doubt other Republican states will follow suit and adopt Ohio’s procedures, leading to the removal of a disproportionate number of minority, low-income, and veteran voters from the list of eligible voters. It is an unfortunate decision, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s lone dissent provides two paths forward to mount new attacks on these voter suppressive laws based on their discriminatory impact.

A bit more:

Whether Alito or Breyer had the stronger analysis of the interplay of the statutory provisions is unclear to me, but both opinions said little about the key political issue underlying the case, an issue Justice Sotomayor flagged in her separate dissent. After noting that Congress passed the Motor Voter law in light of a history of using restrictive registration and purge rules to suppress the vote, the Justice pointed to evidence showing that the process “has disproportionately affected minority, low-income, disabled, and veteran voters.” She noted evidence that in Hamilton County, Ohio, “African-American-majority neighborhoods in downtown Cincinnati had 10% of their voters removed due to inactivity” since 2012, as “compared to only 4% of voters in a suburban, majority-white neighborhood.” She also cited amicus briefs explaining “at length how low voter turnout rates, language-access problems, mail delivery issues, inflexible work schedules, and transportation issues, among other obstacles, make it more difficult for many minority, low-income, disabled, homeless, and veteran voters to cast a ballot or return a notice, rendering them particularly vulnerable to unwarranted removal under” Ohio’s process.

Justice Sotomayor pointed out that another provision of the Motor Voter law requires that any removal program “be uniform, nondiscriminatory, and in compliance with the Voting Rights Act,” and this part of the law provides a potential path forward. As more states enact laws like Ohio’s, it will become further apparent that these laws have discriminatory effects.

And aside from lawsuits, worries about voter suppression have energized the left to fight such laws politically. In at least some states discriminatory laws like Ohio’s can be fought through legislative battles and at the ballot box.

Justice Alito’s response to Justice Sotomayor is quite telling. He rightly noted that the challenge in this case was not about whether Ohio’s law was discriminatory. But he added that Justice Sotomayor did not point “to any evidence in the record that Ohio instituted or has carried out its program with discriminatory intent.”

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