The Supreme Court Blesses Voter Purges

By Garrett Epps

“The dissents have a policy disagreement, not just with Ohio, but with Congress,” Justice Samuel Alito primly pronounced Monday in his majority opinion in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Ohio “voter purge” case. “But this case presents a question of statutory interpretation, not a question of policy.”

Whenever a court claims to be engaged in policy-free statutory interpretation, check your wallet. Sometimes the claim is true; but more often than not, somebody’s getting robbed.

Alito, writing for a five-justice majority, resolved a seeming conflict among provisions of federal voting law by concluding that the aggressive procedure Ohio (under the leadership of a conservative Republican secretary of state, Jon A. Husted) adopted to purge its voter rolls of supposedly ineligible voters, does not violate federal statutes. (He was joined by the other four conservatives—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch; Justice Thomas wrote separately to suggest that voting-rights legislation in general is unconstitutional. Justice Stephen Breyer dissented for himself and the three moderate liberals—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor also wrote a short solo dissent.)

The statutes at issue are the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The text of the statutes offers a conflict between two values: first, the right of every eligible citizen to vote without unreasonable or discriminatory state obstacles, and, second, the need for accurate voter rolls “purged” of those who have died, lost the right to vote by criminal conviction, or moved away. No matter how that conflict is resolved, policy is in the house.

Ohio adopted a means of “purging” that, from the available evidence, leans sharply in the direction of voter-removal and gives less weight to the danger of inaccurate purging. …read more

Via:: The Atlantic


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