Litigation Look Ahead: June 2022
As states across the country gear up for primary and general elections, actors seeking to suppress votes — and those fighting back — are similarly ramping up their activity. Voter suppression laws face courtrooms in Arizona and Georgia and a few remaining maps should be finalized as the 2022 election cycle begins.
Below we highlight cases with likely court action over the next month. This is not an exhaustive list — new lawsuits will be filed, and pending cases are subject to scheduling conflicts, delays or case developments that change the course of litigation. Keep an eye on our Cases page for any developments in these cases and others.
Voting rights litigation: what to expect.
Along with the cases below, we’re watching two swing states to see what their respective Supreme Courts say about mail-in voting. In Pennsylvania, we’re waiting to hear the court’s decision on whether the state’s no-excuse mail-in voting law violates the Pennsylvania Constitution. And, in Wisconsin, the state’s highest court could rule on the legality of drop boxes at any point. You should also keep an eye on state legislatures wrapping up their sessions in the coming weeks; new voter suppression laws that are enacted could face legal challenges.
Republicans are seeking to disband no-excuse mail-in voting in Arizona — which has been extremely popular since it was instituted in 1991 — by arguing that the Arizona Constitution only allows in-person voting. The Arizona Republican Party and its chairwoman have asked a state trial court to grant a preliminary injunction eliminating mail-in voting for the 2022 election cycle — an outcome that would be catastrophic for voters and election administrators. The Republicans’ requested relief will be the focal point of a June 3 hearing.
Two voter suppression laws are at the center of Mi Familia Vota v. Hobbs. Nonprofit groups and Democratic organizations are challenging Senate Bill 1485, which purges voters from the state’s permanent early voting rolls if they don’t vote by mail in two consecutive elections, and Senate Bill 1003, which imposes a 7 p.m. deadline on Election Day to cure mail-in ballots. The plaintiffs argue that these laws violate the First, 14th and 15th Amendments as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by burdening the right to vote, particularly for voters of color. Unsurprisingly, Republican officials in Arizona and national Republican committees are fighting this lawsuit and have filed a motion to dismiss it, arguing the case should be thrown out for procedural reasons. A hearing on this request is scheduled for June 7, though the judge has already released a tentative ruling (meaning it can still change) dismissing three out of four claims.
Senate Bill 202, Georgia’s omnibus voter suppression law that garnered widespread criticism when it was enacted in 2021, will soon head to court. You may remember that there are multiple lawsuits challenging the law: Six cases raising similar claims have been consolidated in In re: Georgia Senate Bill 202 and two other cases raising distinct claims, Coalition for Good Governance v. Raffensperger and VoteAmerica v. Raffensperger, remain on their own.
The plaintiffs in VoteAmerica have asked the federal district court to temporarily block S.B. 202’s absentee ballot restrictions — which, among other provisions, prohibit voting rights groups from mailing absentee ballot applications to Georgians who have already requested, received or completed their absentee ballots — for the 2022 midterm elections, arguing that the requirements violate the First Amendment. A hearing on this motion is scheduled for June 9. The plaintiffs in the consolidated case have asked the court to block S.B. 202’s line-warming ban, also arguing that it violates the First Amendment. Briefing is ongoing on this motion, so keep an eye on the case page for updates on whether the line-warming ban — a restriction that will largely impact voters of color who face disproportionately long lines in Georgia — will be in place for elections this fall.
Likely by the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on whether North Carolina Republican officials can intervene in a case challenging the state’s strict photo ID to vote law. This relates to a lawsuit filed in 2018 by the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and other local chapters challenging a law that requires voters to provide one of 10 authorized photo IDs to vote absentee or in person. The complaint alleges that this photo ID provision disproportionately burdens Black and Latino residents in violation of the VRA and the 14th and 15th Amendments. Arguing that the state and its Democratic governor and attorney general are not adequately defending the law in federal court, Republican leaders in the North Carolina Legislature unsuccessfully tried to intervene in the case three separate times — twice before the district court and once before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court then granted the Republicans’ petition asking it to decide whether or not they can intervene and held oral argument on the issue back in March. With the Court’s term set to end in late June or early July, we can expect a decision soon on whether the Republican legislators can participate in this litigation and defend the photo ID law. While this ruling won’t end the case, it could affect its trajectory and the arguments presented around the law. It could also cause ripple effects in other voting rights litigation where parties claim, as the Republicans have already done repeatedly, that they have a vested interest in defending voter suppression laws.
While we wait for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to rule on mail-in voting in McLinko v. Degraffenreid, another aspect of vote by mail is being litigated. Undated mail-in ballots — which are missing handwritten dates next to the voters’ signatures on the outer ballot envelopes but are otherwise valid — are at the center of federal and state court lawsuits. A federal appellate court recently ruled that undated ballots in a Lehigh County judicial election must be counted because a missing date is a minor omission unrelated to a voter’s eligibility. But, the U.S. Supreme Court then paused the appellate court’s ruling, meaning that Lehigh County undated ballots go back to being uncounted for the time being. This decision may play a role in the ongoing recount of ballots in Pennsylvania’s Republican Senate primary election, as U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick has filed a lawsuit in state court to ensure undated ballots are counted. The state court will likely issue a ruling on whether or not undated ballots must be counted soon.
Redistricting litigation: what to expect.
Redistricting litigation that impacts this election cycle is winding down. With the adoption of New Hampshire’s districts on May 31, all states (except for the states with only one district) have drawn new congressional districts based on 2020 census data. Congressional and legislative maps are largely finalized for 2022, though outstanding decisions remain on Louisiana and Florida’s congressional maps and New York’s Assembly map.
Voters and voting and civil rights groups are asking the Florida Supreme Court to block the state’s congressional map for the 2022 election cycle. In mid-May, a trial court judge temporarily blocked the congressional map, drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), for diminishing Black Floridians’ ability to elect the candidates of their choice in northern Florida. However, after a series of back and forth between Florida’s state courts, the map was reinstated by an appellate court. Now, the plaintiffs are asking the state Supreme Court to weigh in on whether the map should be in place for upcoming elections. Briefing on this question concluded on Friday, May 27, and a decision is expected soon. This is one of the last remaining maps being challenged for the 2022 election cycle. Afterwards, litigation will then turn to the legality of the map and whether or not it should be permanently struck down for future elections for violating the Florida Constitution.
Louisiana’s congressional map currently hangs in limbo as a federal district court decides whether or not to block the map for the 2022 election cycle. Voters and civil rights groups argue that the congressional map, which has one majority-Black district out of six (despite the fact that one-third of Louisiana’s population is Black and votes cohesively), violates Section 2 of the VRA. At a preliminary injunction hearing held in early May, the plaintiffs presented evidence arguing that Black voters are “cracked” across multiple districts and “packed” into one district to ensure that they can only elect the candidate of their choice in one district, even though they could form the majority in a second district. Along with Florida, Louisiana’s congressional map is one of the last remaining maps being challenged for the 2022 election cycle.
New Hampshire voters are suing the New Hampshire secretary of state over the new state Senate and Executive Council districts in an effort to block the maps for the 2022 election cycle. The plaintiffs argue that Republican legislators purposefully “cracked” and “packed” Democratic voters across the challenged districts in order to secure Republican majorities in both chambers in violation of multiple provisions of the New Hampshire Constitution. In support of this claim, the lawsuit argues that, even “if more than half of the statewide electorate votes for Democratic candidates, Republicans can still obtain control of both the Senate and Executive Council with large margins.” A hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion to temporarily block the maps for upcoming elections while the case is litigated is scheduled for June 13.
Three New York voters are challenging the state’s new Assembly map drawn with 2020 census data for allegedly violating the New York Constitution. The lawsuit argues that the Legislature bypassed the citizen-led Independent Redistricting Commission’s authority to enact the districts in violation of a 2014 amendment and the map is therefore invalid. The trial court ruled against the voters after finding that the “untimeliness of Petitioners’ action,” filed months after the map was enacted, weighed in favor of keeping the map in place. The petitioners have since appealed this decision; keep an eye on this case page for any developments over the next month.
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Keep an eye out for our next monthly litigation look ahead in July. In the meantime, be sure to stay up to date on important cases and court decisions on our Cases and Alerts pages.