August 06, 2015
Fifty years ago today the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law. The Act has been described as the most significant civil rights legislation ever passed by Congress. It changed the American electoral landscape by preventing states from disenfranchising African Americans (and now Hispanic and Asian Americans) through the imposition of arbitrary, illegal barriers such as poll taxes and literacy tests, and by enabling them to participate in the political process and in government.
Weil attorneys have for years worked with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and others to protect voting rights. Some highlights include:
- In 2012, a Weil pro bono team in Florida led by partner Ed Soto and associate Ed McCarthy – relying heavily on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – helped defeat attempts by state officials to purge the voting rolls in ways that illegally disenfranchised many minority voters. In this matter, the team assisted Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, a national not-for-profit.
- Following the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the pre-clearance provisions in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the Florida Weil team was asked to prepare to initiate a suit in federal court under Section 3 of the Act based on arguably intentional discriminatory acts associated with the proposed reinstitution of a proposed voting purge. Weil’s actions led to a meeting of interested parties. Following these efforts, the Florida Secretary of State announced that he would not seek to reinstitute the voter purge project.
- Another team, led by partner David Hird and associates Cheryl James and Kristen Murphy, joined with the Brennan Center for Justice in successfully combating a restrictive photo ID voting requirement before the Arkansas Supreme Court. The Arkansas law would have required voters to show a photo ID at the ballot box. Before the law was passed, state voting officials asked for a photo ID at the polls but were required to allow voters to cast a ballot even if they could not produce the photo ID. The new law allowed voters to cast a provisional ballot if they did not present a photo ID, but their ballots would not be counted if they did not bring proof of identity to election officials by noon of the Monday following the date of the election. The Arkansas Supreme Court adopted some of the arguments put forward in an amicus curiae brief filed jointly by Weil and the Brennan Center, which challenged the law, ruling that the law violated the state constitution by imposing an additional “qualification” on voting that would make it more difficult for citizens to cast a ballot.
- Weil attorneys have also been working for several years on the Election Protection Program with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund as part of the nation’s largest nonpartisan program working to break down barriers to the ballot box for traditionally disenfranchised voters. Our multi-office effort aids the overall program by meeting with election officials, staffing hotlines to address voting rights, and serving as mobile legal volunteers on Election Day. Where necessary, our lawyers also litigate for improvements to the election process.