The Supreme Court has issued another decision in a much-anticipated case, and it’s another 5-4 decision highlighting a deep ideological and jurisprudential divide. This decision will likely impact many elections to come, and that’s why it is such a big deal. The case concerns how voters are removed from registration rolls. The Court held in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute that Ohio’s process to purge voters from registration lists is legal.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993 or as we knew it at the time, the Motor Voter law was passed into law by Democrats on party-line votes when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency. The law forced states to offer voter registration through driver’s license applications, as well as many other mandates and prohibitions on states regarding the voting process, including how voters are added to registration rolls. It also requires states to make a reasonable effort to remove the names of ineligible voters who have died or moved.
The majority opinion declared that Ohio’s law and process in place followed the law “to the letter.”
The Ohio process at issue relies on the failure to vote for two years as a rough way of identifying voters who may have moved. It sends these nonvoters a preaddressed, postage prepaid return card, asking them to verify that they still reside at the same address. Voters who do not return the card and fail to vote in any election for four more years are presumed to have moved and are removed from the rolls.
Sotomayor Plays the Race Card
If you read that and see between the lines a Reconstruction Era literacy test equivalent, you would be in good company with Justice Sotomayor. The Justice, who has previously referred to herself as a “wise Latina”, who would “more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male,” wrote a separate dissent where she said the majority decision:
“Entirely ignores the history of voter suppression against which the NVRA was enacted and upholds a program that appears to further the very disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters that Congress set out to eradicate.”
Alito Hits Back
Alito’s opinion for the majority blasts this argument in what can only be called a broadside for a Supreme Court opinion:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR’s dissent says nothing about what is relevant in this case—namely, the language of the NVRA—but instead accuses us of “ignor[ing] the history of voter suppression” in this country and of “uphold[ing] a program that appears to further the . . . disenfranchisement of minority and low-income voters.” Those charges are misconceived. The NVRA prohibits state programs that are discriminatory, but respondents did not assert a claim under that provision. And JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR has not pointed to any evidence in the record that Ohio instituted or has carried out its program with discriminatory intent.
No provision in the Constitution requires a wise Latina Supreme Court Justice to base her opinions on evidence.