U.S. Supreme Court Declines To Review Lawsuit Over Texas Signature Matching Law
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition seeking review of a decision in a lawsuit over Texas’ mail-in ballot signature verification process, which requires untrained elections officials to match a voter’s signature on their mail-in ballot’s outer envelope to that on their ballot application or another signature on file. This appeal originates from a lawsuit filed on behalf of voters and multiple civic organizations challenging the signature verification process for allegedly violating the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. In September 2020, a district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and permanently blocked parts of Texas’ signature matching process ahead of the November 2020 election, concluding that it places an undue burden on the right to vote in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, in March 2022, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed this decision, holding that the claims against then-Texas Secretary of State John Scott (R) were invalid and that he should not be a defendant in the case because he is protected by sovereign immunity, a legal doctrine that largely bars government officials from being sued. The 5th Circuit’s opinion further concluded that it is the job of local election officials — not the secretary of state — to enforce the challenged signature verification process for mail-in ballots, further shielding the secretary under sovereign immunity. Subsequently, some of the plaintiffs in the original lawsuit, including a voter and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the 5th Circuit’s decision dismissing claims against the Texas secretary of state. The petition did not touch on the legality of Texas’ signature matching law.
In their petition for a writ of certiorari, the petitioners specifically asserted that the 5th Circuit erred in holding that the secretary of state does not enforce the challenged provision, emphasizing the fact that under state law, “he is Texas’s chief election officer and has expansive responsibilities and authority over all of Texas’s election laws, including the signature comparison procedure.” The petition further argued that the 5th Circuit’s decision in this case conflicts with precedent in a tranche of other lawsuits in which courts, including the Supreme Court and the “Sixth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits have held that statewide officials overseeing the administration of state election law are suable.”
In today’s order denying the petition, the Supreme Court ultimately rejected the petitioners’ argument urging it to reverse the 5th Circuit’s decision. In doing so, the Court also declined to “hold that the Texas SOS’s duties and authority to enforce the signature comparison procedure are sufficient to satisfy the requisite enforcement connection” established by its own precedent in Ex parte Young, a decision that carves out an exception to sovereign immunity when government officials enforce statutes that contravene the U.S. Constitution or federal law.
While the Supreme Court affirmed that the secretary of state cannot be a defendant in this case, litigation challenging the signature matching law will continue against other defendants.