US Supreme Court Will Not Review GOP Challenge To Washington’s State-Level Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Supreme Court this morning declined to take up a Republican legal challenge to Washington’s state-level voting rights act, thereby leaving in place the law’s robust protections for minority voters.

Enacted in 2018, the Washington Voting Rights Act (WVRA) is a state law modeled after certain aspects of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was established to ensure minority groups have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice and protects them from discrimination in voting. 

In June 2023, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously upheld the WVRA, rejecting an appeal from a Franklin County GOP precinct commissioner, James Gimenez, who argued that the law violates the Washington State and U.S. Constitutions by making race the “predominant factor” in redistricting. 

Gimenez’s appeal to the state Supreme Court specifically contested a WVRA-based settlement agreement between Latino voters and Franklin County reached in May 2022, which switched general elections for the three-member county commission from an at-large system to single-member districts. Under the county’s previous at-large system, commissioners were elected by voters across the entire county as opposed to voters in three separate districts. 

The historic settlement will for the first time in two decades allow Latino voters — who account for over 50% of Franklin County’s total population — to elect their preferred candidate to the county commission beginning in the 2024 election cycle. 

In November 2023, Gimenez appealed the Washington Supreme Court’s decision upholding the WVRA to the U.S. Supreme Court. In his petition to the nation’s highest court, Gimenez urged the justices to consider whether the WVRA violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, arguing that the law unconstitutionally requires “local governments to change their election systems based on race alone.”  

With the U.S. Supreme Court declining to take up Gimenez’s appeal today, the WVRA will remain in effect and will continue to act as a bulwark against racially discriminatory vote dilution at the local level. 

As protections for minority communities under the federal VRA have eroded over the past decade, state-level VRAs are becoming increasingly salient in protecting voters throughout local jurisdictions. In addition to Washington, states including California, Oregon, Virginia, New York — and most recently Connecticut — have adopted state-level VRAs. Meanwhile other states, such as Minnesota, are currently looking to pass state-level voting rights acts.

Ruth Greenwood, the director of Harvard Law School’s Election Law Clinic who previously submitted an amicus brief in support of Latino voters in the Franklin County case, called today’s ruling a “[h]uge victory for everyone relying on SVRAs to promote minority representation!”

Read the order here.

Learn more about the case here.