(Mis)Trusting States to Run Elections
51 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2014 Last revised: 24 Jan 2018
Current Supreme Court doctrine defers too readily to states’ voting systems. In the process, the Court has removed Congress from the elections business. The Court has done so not explicitly but through two judicial maneuvers, one substantive and the other procedural, that place tremendous trust in states: lowering the bar for the state interest prong of the constitutional analysis, and forbidding facial challenges to state rules on election administration. The Court has credited any state assertion of “election integrity,” even if that is not the actual impetus for the law under review. It also will reject a facial challenge to a state voting rule, thereby leaving the law in place until a plaintiff has gathered actual evidence of the law’s impact on particular voters. The Court has not treated Congress the same, demonstrating its willingness to invalidate a federal voting rule on its face even when Congress has asserted a more detailed rationale for the law. This Article uncovers this approach to constitutional challenges to voting regulations. It also explains why this current jurisprudence is both wrong and dangerous. It is wrong because the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government significant scope to promulgate election regulations, and states are subordinate to Congress under our constitutional structure. It is dangerous because the current deferential approach emboldens states to pass partisan-based laws with an eye toward affecting elections, and all a state needs to say to justify a new law is that it is seeking to ensure “election integrity.” The Court should reverse this current jurisprudence by requiring states to provide a more detailed justification for an election law and by allowing broader use of facial challenges to invalidate state voting laws, when necessary, before they are implemented. Voting, as a fundamental right, deserves robust protection from the courts. Scrutinizing state election laws more closely will help to achieve this worthy goal.
Keywords: election law, voting rights, constitutional law, as-applied challenges, facial challenges, Shelby County, Voting Rights Act
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