State of Tennessee

Tennessee Absentee Ballot Application Felony Challenge

Lichtenstein v. Hargett

Lawsuit filed by a labor organizer, civil rights groups and labor groups against Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett (R), the Tennessee coordinator of elections and the district attorney general for Shelby County, Tennessee challenging a state law that makes it a felony to “give[] an application for an absentee ballot to any person” if you are not an employee of an election commission. The plaintiffs argue that “this criminal prohibition on the distribution of absentee ballot applications is an extraordinarily burdensome constraint on their ability to fully engage with voters.” The plaintiffs allege that this law violates their First and 14th Amendment rights to free speech and association by chilling the plaintiffs “core political speech” without serving a compelling state interest. The plaintiffs’ request that the court deem this law unconstitutional and prevent the defendants from enforcing it.  

The plaintiffs filed a motion to temporarily block the law, which a trial court denied on Sept. 23, 2020. In denying the plaintiffs motion for a temporary injunction, the judge wrote that the ‘“role of this court is not to impose [its] own idea of democracy upon the [Tennessee] state legislature; rather, [it] must limit our analysis to whether the restrictions imposed fits within the outer limits of what the First Amendment requires.”’ The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted in a two paragraph order on Dec. 7, 2021. On Jan. 6, 2022, the plaintiffs appealed the dismissal to the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals. The 6th Circuit held oral argument on Oct. 27.  On Oct. 5, 2023, the 6th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case.

Case Documents (Trial Court)

Case Documents (6th Circuit)

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