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LDF Files Amicus Brief in Circuit Court Defending Voting Rights Act

6/14/17

LDF Files Amicus Brief in Circuit Court Defending Voting Rights Act 

This week, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed an amicus brief in the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

In the case, Lewis v. Alabama, the district court held that that the doctrine of "state sovereign immunity" prevents private individuals from suing the State of Alabama or state officials under the Voting Rights Act.

In our amicus brief, LDF and CLC contend that the district court’s holding ignored over 50 years of history, the obvious intent of Congress, and the clear text of the Voting Rights Act. The brief describes how abundantly clear it is under existing precedent that the Voting Rights Act overrides state sovereignty in order to protect voters and hold state officials accountable for racially discriminatory election laws. The brief also argues that the court ignored the long-established legal doctrine of Ex Parte Young, which allows plaintiffs to challenge unconstitutional state actions by suing state officials.

“Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for a clear purpose: to ensure that no state could block citizens from participating in the political process because of race,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “To enforce that mandate, it allowed for lawsuits against states to stop discrimination against minority voters. By failing to recognize this fundamental aspect of the Voting Rights Act, the district court has told the people of Birmingham that their voices do not matter.”

“Citizens have the right to challenge laws that violate their constitutional rights,” said Danielle Lang, Senior Legal Counsel at CLC. “State sovereignty does not override the rights of individuals to sue states and state officials for unlawful racial discrimination under the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.” 

“In drafting the Voting Rights Act, Congress understood that they were carefully crafting an instrument that would limit the power of state governments,” said LDF Counsel Elizabeth Reese. “If the district court’s ruling is upheld, it will blunt that instrument by effectively shutting the door on a voter’s ability to challenge laws intended to disenfranchise them on the basis of race.”

Read the full brief here.

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.