On October 9, 2008, the Lawyers’ Committee, the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational fund filed suit in federal court in Georgia, against the Georgia Secretary of State, to halt use of a new voter-registration verification procedure. The procedure relied upon a computerized database-matching regime which flagged, inaccurately, United States citizens as being non-citizens, thereby jeopardizing their ability to register and vote. The lawsuit initially was filed on behalf of Jose Morales, a naturalized citizen residing in Georgia; it subsequently was amended to add as plaintiffs the NAACP, the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, and the Center for Pan Asian Community Services.
On October 27, 2008 the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia issued a preliminary injunction against the Secretary of State, finding that the new verification procedure had been implemented without federal preclearance, in violation of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Under Section 5, Georgia was required to obtain preclearance before it implemented any new practice or procedure affecting voting. The district court found that the Secretary of State had put the new verification procedure into effect in 2007, without requesting preclearance, thereby resulting in Mr. Morales and several thousand others being flagged as possible non-citizens. The court enjoined the State from relying upon the procedure to permanently deny any voter registration applications or permanently remove any existing voter registrants from the rolls, unless and until preclearance was obtained. The court subsequently continued the injunction in June 2010.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the State made a Section 5 submission regarding the new procedure to the U.S. Department of Justice. The Lawyers’ Committee and several other coalition partners submitted comment letters to the Department urging the Department to interpose a Section 5 objection. On May 29, 2009, the Department issued its decision, concluding that the State had failed to meet its burden of showing that the procedure would not have a discriminatory, retrogressive effect on minority citizens in Georgia.
The verification procedure relied on citizenship data contained in the State’s Department of Driver’s Services (“DDS”) database. However, DDS did not have a procedure to update the database if and when persons who were legal residents when they obtained their driver’s license then became naturalized citizens. This created a systematic bias against naturalized citizens in the use of this verification procedure which, in turn, resulted in a systematic bias against Georgia’s minority population because, as shown by data maintained by the Department of Homeland Security, the minority percentage of Georgia residents who recently had become naturalized citizens was significantly higher than the overall minority percentage of the Georgia population.
In June 2010, the State of Georgia filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia seeking judicial preclearance for the verification procedure. State of Georgia v. Holder, No. 1:10-cv-1062. The Lawyers’ Committee, co-counseling with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, intervened to oppose preclearance. However, in August 2010, the State submitted a slightly revised procedure to the Justice Department for preclearance, and the Department precleared it. The Lawyers’ Committee asked the district court in the Georgia case to review the unusual and prejudicial manner in which Georgia and the Justice Department handled the August 2010 submission, and the manner in which they sought to accomplish an end-run around the litigation. The district court initially required the State and the Justice Department to respond, but then dismissed the lawsuit as moot. Preclearance of the revised procedure also ended the Morales litigation.
- Click here to read our letter to DOJ from November 25, 2008.
- Click here to read our second letter to DOJ, dated May 19, 2009.
- Click here to read the Northern District of Georgia’s June 2010 order.
- Click here to read the Lawyers’ Committee’s September 2010 brief in State of Georgia v. Holder.
- Click here to read the order of dismissal in State of Georgia v. Holder.