“The Elephant in the Room: Intentional Voter Suppression”

Lisa Manheim and Elizabeth Porter have posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming, Supreme Court Review . Here is the abstract:

Since its inception, the Roberts Court has acquiesced in—and at times even abetted—the attempts of many states to make it harder for Americans to vote. Illustrative is a 2018 decision, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, in which the Court rejected a statutory challenge to a state’s expansive purges of voting lists. In Husted the Court dismissed the threat of voter suppression as simply not “relevant” to the case before it. By declining to look beyond states’ unsupported explanations for voter-suppressive practices, the Court is leaving the right to vote to the vagaries of the political process.

It didn’t have to be this way. For half a century, the Court has recognized a constitutional right to vote. This Article sketches a claim that precedent might allow, if only the Court were willing to reconsider its trajectory and acknowledge the reality and constitutional implications of intentional voter suppression. More specifically, we turn to the neglected Equal Protection framework developed by the Supreme Court in the voting-rights context to argue that a state acts unconstitutionally when it acts with the intent of making it less likely that an eligible voter’s ballot will be cast or counted. If accepted, this straightforward principle would require judicial scrutiny of election practices to move beyond talking points, to allow genuine adversarial testing of states’ justifications for restrictive measures.

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