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A Broken Promise in Texas: Race, the Death Penalty and the Duane Buck Case
Director of the Political Participation Group
Ryan P. Haygood is the Director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.’s (LDF) Political Participation Group, which promotes the full, equal, and active participation of Black people in the democratic process through legal, legislative, public education, and other advocacy tools.
At LDF, Ryan represents Black voters in a variety of actions involving voting discrimination, including challenges to discriminatory voting measures under the Voting Rights Act, the United States Constitution, and state laws.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
Ryan recently represented Black community leaders in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, a devastating case in which the United States Supreme Court struck as unconstitutional Section 4(b), the coverage provision of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court’s decision ultimately rendered the Section 5 “preclearance provision” inoperable.
Prior to the Shelby County case, Ryan, as a member of LDF’s litigation team in 2009 in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. One v. Holder (MUD), successfully defended against a constitutional challenge to Section 5 before the Supreme Court. During the 2006 Congressional reauthorization of Section 5, Ryan coordinated LDF’s legislative strategy, its contributions to building the Congressional record, and the organization’s public education efforts in numerous community, academic, and media settings. Ryan is now actively engaged in the effort to urge Congress to respond aggressively to the Shelby County decision.
Under Section 5, Ryan successfully represented Black voters in the following recent high-profile cases:
- Florida v. Holder, in which a three-judge federal court rejected Florida’s attempt to drastically reduce the early voting period for the 2012 Presidential election, an important channel through which Black people voted in record numbers in the 2008 Presidential election;
- South Carolina v. Holder, in which a three-judge federal court rejected South Carolina’s request to implement its discriminatory photo identification law for the 2012 Presidential election; and,
- Texas v. Holder, in which a three-judge federal court rejected Texas’s attempt to implement a discriminatory government-issued photo identification measure in 2012, recognizing it as the most discriminatory photo ID measure in the country.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act
In addition to his robust Section 5 litigation practice, Ryan frequently represents Black voters in actions challenging discriminatory voting practices under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Ryan currently represents a Black college student and organization, which works to engage students in the political process, in United States v. Texas, a Section 2 challenge to Texas’s discriminatory photo ID law. Following the Shelby County decision, Texas swiftly implemented its discriminatory photo ID law. Ryan’s clients only possess state-issued student IDs, which they used to vote in previous elections, but which are no longer permitted under Texas’s new discriminatory photo ID law. Texas’s new law does allow, however, for the use of concealed handgun licenses.
Ryan also is counsel in a Section 2 challenge to Fayette County, Georgia’s at-large method of electing members to the County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education in Georgia State Conference of the NAACP, et al., v. Fayette County Board of Commissioners. In that case, a federal district court recently rejected as violative of Section 2 the County’s use of at-large voting on the ground that it, in combination with racially polarized voting, has prevented Black voters from ever electing a candidate of their choice to either board.
Ryan also represented Black voters in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana in Williams v. McKeithen, a Section 2 challenge to the Parish’s at-large method of electing judges to the state court of appeals. In response to the Williams litigation, Louisiana created a new district that provided that Parish’s Black community, for the first time in history, with an opportunity to elect a candidate of its choice.
Freeing the Vote for People with Felony Convictions
Ryan also has litigated several challenges to discriminatory state laws that disproportionately deny voting rights to people of color with felony convictions, widely recognized as the next frontier for the expansion of voting rights. Nearly 6 million people with felony convictions are barred from voting under these laws.
In one of those cases, Farrakhan v. Gregoire, Ryan successfully argued before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that Washington’s felon disfranchisement law violates the Voting Rights Act. In the first ruling of its kind, the Ninth Circuit struck down Washington’s law, finding that it shifted racial discrimination from the criminal justice system into the political process, and consequently denied voters of color an equal opportunity to participate in the State’s political process. In Washington State, an astonishing 25 percent of Black men cannot vote as a result of a felony conviction. Ryan subsequently argued the case before an 11-member en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit, which ultimately reversed the historic ruling.
Ryan also litigated Little v. LATFOR, a case that ensured that that incarcerated people of color in New York State are properly counted in their home communities during the 2010 and future redistricting processes, rather than in the prison communities where they are incarcerated. This practice, known as “prison-based gerrymandering,” artificially inflates the population count—and thus, the political influence—of the districts where prisons and jails are located. At the same time, this practice reduces the political power of everyone else. The viability of our communities, integrity of our democracy and basic principles of equality suffer as a result.
The National Voter Registration Act
Ryan also supervises LDF’s litigation and advocacy efforts to ensure state compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires states to provide voter registration services to impoverished constituents who apply for benefits at state public assistance agencies. Ryan and his team recently secured the first victory under the NVRA following a trial in Scott v. Schedler, where a federal court found that Louisiana violated the law by failing to offer an opportunity to register to vote to all applicants and recipients of food stamps, TANF, Medicaid, and WIC. In particular, the court found that despite consistently high numbers of participants in Louisiana’s food stamp and Medicaid programs, voter registration applications originating in these agencies had dropped nearly 90 percent in the last twenty years. Nationwide, as of October 2011, more than one million low-income people in five different states have registered to vote as a result of proper NVRA enforcement.
Voter Empowerment: Prepared to Vote Campaign
Ryan leads LDF’s Prepared to Vote campaign, a non-partisan pre-Election Day voter empowerment program, through which tens of thousands of voters over many election cycles have been equipped with information critical to ensuring that they were able to cast a ballot that was counted on Election Day. During the 2008 presidential election, Ryan litigated two successful pre-Election Day challenges as part of this program, including a case in Alabama that allowed a prison-based voter registration drive to continue; and a case in Indiana that invalidated a coordinated attempt to declare residents ineligible to vote due to home foreclosure.
Appearances, Media, and Publications
Ryan speaks frequently at various conferences, symposiums, and community empowerment events.
He also has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, including MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews here and here, MSNBC’s Politics Nation with Reverend Al Sharpton, MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes, MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show here and here, CNN Newsroom with Suzanne Malveaux, MSNBC Live with Richard Lui, The Tavis Smiley Show, Fox News, National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation, Associated Press, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times, and Thomson Reuters.
Ryan has offered testimony, and writes regularly on issues concerning race, law, and democracy in various publications, including:
- The Past as Prologue: Defending Democracy Against Voter Suppression Tactics on the Eve of the 2012 Elections, 64 Rutgers L. Rev. 1019 (2012);
- Disregarding the Results: Examining the Ninth Circuit’s Heightened Section 2 “Intentional Discrimination” Standard in Farrakhan v. Gregoire, 111 Colum. L. Rev. Sidebar 51 (2011); and,
- The Dim Side of the Bright Line: Minority Voting Opportunity After Bartlett v. Strickland, 45 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. (2010)
In 2012, LDF authored a leading report, Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, which explores the contemporary assault on voting rights across the nation. Ryan brought international attention to this important issue when he testified at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 2012.
Additional Experiences and Background
Prior to joining LDF, Ryan was a litigation associate in the New York office of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, LLP, and was a recipient of the LDF/Fried Frank Fellowship. At Fried, Frank, Ryan represented clients in a variety of complex commercial and civil rights matters before federal courts.
Ryan received his J.D. from the University of Colorado School of Law and B.A. in American History and Political Science cum laude from Colorado College, where he was nominated for the Rhodes Scholarship and earned academic and athletic All-American honors as a football player.