At a Glance
The state of Tennessee passed the most punitive voter registration law in the country, threatening steep criminal and civil penalties for good faith third-party voter registration activities. With the help of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Andrew Goodman Foundation joined The Equity Alliance, Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, and other civil rights organizations in challenging the law. We won a preliminary injunction stopping the law from going into effect. The state subsequently passed a new law repealing all of the provisions of the Third Party Voter Registration Law that were challenged in the case. Although the cases are not technically moot as a matter of law, the plaintiffs agreed that they accomplished what they sought in bringing these cases. As such, the parties entered into a stipulation of voluntary dismissal without prejudice.
Tennessee Lawmakers Repeal Discriminatory Restrictions on Voter Registration Drives Following Federal Lawsuit
Yesterday, Tennessee Governor William Lee signed a new bill into law that effectively eliminates many restrictions and threats of draconian civil and criminal penalties that previously inhibited voter registration activities in the state. This victory comes after The Andrew Goodman Foundation and other civil rights organizations took legal action to stop these restrictions from going into effect.Learn More
About the Case
On May 3, 2019, Tennessee Governor William Lee signed a bill into law that severely restricted voter registration activities in the state. The law required third-party voter registration groups to comply with preregistration, training, and affirmation requirements or face draconian criminal and civil penalties ranging in the tens of thousands of dollars. The statute stiffly penalized groups for actions of voters who do not satisfy a vaguely-defined requirement that registration forms be “complete.” The statute also criminalized “any public communication” made by a third-party group to a voter about the voter’s registration status if it was not accompanied by a disclosure that the communication was not authorized by the Secretary of State.
In response to the law, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, pro bono firm Hogan Lovells US LLP, Memphis-based firm Burch, Porter, & Johnson PLLC, Bromberg Law LLC, and community practitioner Daniel Ayoade Yoon filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities, The Equity Alliance, and The Andrew Goodman Foundation challenging Tennessee’s new third-party registration law. The complaint alleged that the law, which imposes burdensome requirements on persons and organizations who seek to help people register to vote, violated fundamental rights of free speech, free association, the right to vote, and due process.
On May 18, 2019, The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its co-plaintiffs took further legal action by filing a Notice of Noncompliance. The notice stated that the new law directly and substantially violed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. On August 16, 2019, the civil rights groups also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the state from implementing the new law, which was set to take effect on October 1, 2019.
By mid-September, there was a victory in Tennessee. On September 9, 2019, U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger sided with the plaintiffs by rejecting the state of Tennessee’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit and granting the motion for a preliminary injunction four days later, on September 13, 2019.
Following the legal victory by The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its co-plaintiffs in the fall of 2019, Tennessee Governor William Lee signed a new bill into law on April 2, 2020, that effectively eliminated many restrictions and threats of draconian civil and criminal penalties that previously inhibited voter registration activities in the state.