Category Archives: Real Right to Vote

Can State Supreme Courts Preserve–or Expand–Rights?

New Yorker:

James A. Gardner, a professor of law at the University at Buffalo who has written extensively about judicial federalism, has raised other caveats. He is skeptical that state courts can spearhead a meaningful expansion of rights, because of heightened partisanship and “the politicization of constitutional law,” which has eroded the independence of state courts, particularly where Republicans wield power. As Gardner documents in a forthcoming law-review article, in recent years Republicans in places such as Georgia have packed state supreme courts to insure rulings favorable to their agenda. In 2017, Georgia’s Supreme Court expanded from seven justices to nine.

Judges in Republican-controlled states who have made expansive rulings in favor of rights have also been attacked politically, and even threatened with impeachment. For judicial federalism to flourish, “state judiciaries must enjoy genuine independence from transitory political winds,” Gardner argues. “Judges who are tethered tightly to trends in state and national politics, and thus fearful of partisan retaliation for decisions they make, are unlikely to enjoy the independence necessary to forge a state constitutional jurisprudence of any organic distinctiveness.”

State courts are significantly less insulated from political pressure than their federal counterparts. In 2022, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down a voter-I.D. law that it concluded was racially discriminatory. The next year, the decision was reversed—after Republicans elected two new conservatives to the bench. This shift in the balance of power occurred after Republicans in the state legislature eliminated public funding for appellate judicial elections and changed the law so that party labels could be affixed to candidates. Douglas Keith, a scholar who tracks the role of dark money in judicial campaigns, told me that before these changes judicial elections in North Carolina had been quiet, nonpartisan affairs. They have now become hyperpartisan battles in which candidates bankrolled by the Republican State Leadership Committee—the nation’s largest spender on state-supreme-court elections—have largely prevailed….

State constitutions offer a potential counterweight to these trends. They embody what the law professors Miriam Seifter and Jessica Bulman-Pozen have termed “the democracy principle”—a commitment to popular sovereignty that is reflected in language vesting power in the people and in explicit assurances of the right to vote. Seifter co-directs the State Democracy Research Initiative, at the University of Wisconsin Law School, in Madison, which she launched, in 2021, with her husband, Robert Yablon, a professor who specializes in election law. One of their goals is to advance research and dialogue about state courts, thereby strengthening democracy. In Seifter’s state, progressives recently scored a major victory in this arena. Starting in 2011, creatively designed legislative maps enabled Republicans to retain power in the state legislature even after losing the popular vote. Janet Protasiewicz, a circuit-court judge, decried these maps, calling them “rigged.” Her outspokenness on the issue helped her to win election to the state supreme court in 2023. Republicans threatened to impeach Protasiewicz unless she agreed to recuse herself from any cases involving the maps, but the effort failed, and a case challenging partisan gerrymandering soon came before the justices. In December, they ruled that more than half of the legislative districts in Wisconsin violated a provision of the constitution requiring them to be composed of “contiguous territory,” and ordered that new maps be drawn.

Another state in which the “democracy principle” has been tested is Montana, where, in 2021, a coalition of Native American tribes challenged voting restrictions, including the elimination of Election Day registration, which they claimed had a disproportionate impact on them. In recent years, federal courts have rarely taken exception to such measures, applying strict scrutiny only to a law that “severely burdens” the right to vote. In an amicus brief, ten constitutional-law scholars, among them Miriam Seifter and Robert Williams, argued that upholding the voting restrictions would “erase Montana’s distinctive constitutional language, structure, and tradition,” all of which warranted a more exacting standard. (The Montana constitution mandates that all elections “be free and open,” and that no power “shall at any time interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”) In March, the Montana Supreme Court struck down the restrictions, and warned that it would view skeptically any state law that “impermissibly interferes” with the right to vote….

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Speaking on April 21 Panel at the L.A. Times Book Festival on My New Book, “A Real Right to Vote”

Looking forward to this conversation:

By the People, For the People: Conversations on Safeguarding Democracy – Tickets Required

Town and Gown

Sunday, Apr 21

1:30 PM – 2:30 PM

Event Description

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s normal for each generation to feel like it’s on the verge of political, climate, or economic apocalypse, or if things really are currently worse than they’ve ever been. The 2024 election feels like the most urgent race in decades, with democracy on the line. How did we get here? What is the path forward? And what does this year’s election mean for the future of our country, no matter the outcome?

Richard Hasen

Michael Isikoff

Daniel Klaidman

Seema Mehta

Tina Nguyen

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All of the Balkinization Symposium Pieces on “A Real Right to Vote”

Thanks again to Jack Balkin for hosting to to all the contributors.

Here are the collected posts for our Balkinization symposium on Rick Hasen’s new book, A Real Right to Vote: How a Constitutional Amendment Can Safeguard American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2024).

1. Jack Balkin, Introduction to the Symposium

2. Michael Waldman, Expanding Our Constitutional Imagination

3. Emily Rong Zhang, Give us (a lasting consensus on really protecting) the Right to Vote!

4. Bruce E. Cain, Going Big on Election Reform: A Political Scientist’s Take on Rick Hasen’s Proposed Constitutional Amendment

5. Alex Keyssar, That Little Omission in the Constitution

6. Wilfred U. Codrington III, A [More] Real Right to Vote?

7. Sanford Levinson, Do We Need Audacity Instead of Measured Prudence? On the Pathos of Richard Hasen’s Call For “A Real Right To Vote”

8 .Derek T. Muller, Some skepticism about (and some promise for) a constitutional right to vote

9. Dan Tokaji, Dare to Dream

10. Richard L. Hasen, A Surreal Right to Vote: Responding to the Balkinization Symposium

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A Surreal Right to Vote: Responding to the Balkinization Symposium

[Cross-posted from Balkinization]

A Surreal Right to Vote: Responding to the Balkinization Symposium

For the Balkinization symposium on Richard L. Hasen, A Real Right to Vote: How a Constitutional Amendment Can Safeguard American Democracy (Princeton University Press, 2024).
Richard L. Hasen
When Jack Balkin graciously put together a symposium featuring leading election law thinkers to discuss my new book, A Real Right to Vote, I did not expect that my proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution to affirmatively protect the right to vote would garner universal support. But I also did not expect to be compared to both Don Quixote and a milquetoast version of Paul Revere who wants to develop a plan to fight the British in 50 years. Although all of the eminent commentators—Bruce CainWilfred CodringtonAlex KeyssarSandy LevinsonDerek MullerDan TokajiMichael Waldman, and Emily Zhang— have many positive things to say about this book, a constitutional amendment, and my work more generally (and for that I am grateful), there’s a definite Goldilocksian problem: I am either too bold in my proposals, or too naïve about the possibility of change in our hyperpolarized political era, or insufficiently audacious in not also solving the problem of partisan gerrymandering or junking the entire Constitution and starting over with a constitutional convention.
Rather than taking solace for falling somewhere in the middle of the spectrum among these eminent commentators, it is worth asking what these set of critiques tell about three key issues I address in A Real Right to Vote: the nature of the problems with the current state of U.S. elections and election law; the extreme difficulty of achieving meaningful constitutional change, especially in the area of voting rights; and the lack of viable alternatives to pursuing a long term constitutional strategy to expand voting rights.

Continue reading A Surreal Right to Vote: Responding to the Balkinization Symposium
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March 21 Online National Constitution Center Event: “Democracy Checkup: Preparing for the 2024 Election”

Very much looking forward to participating in this event (free registration required):

Richard Hasen, author of A Real Right to VoteSarah Isgur, senior editor of The Dispatch, and Lawrence Lessig, author of How to Steal a Presidential Election, provide a health check on the state of American democracy, and look ahead to potential areas of vulnerability in the run-up to the 2024 election. Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, moderates.

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