Federal Court Denies Tennessee Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit Challenging Voter Registration Law

A federal judge rejected the state of Tennessee’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its coalition partners that challenges the state’s new voter suppression law, which places arbitrary and excessive burdens and threats of civil and criminal penalties on individuals and organizations that are engaged in voter registration. The law is one of the most restrictive in the nation and is set to take effect on October 1, 2019. Individuals and organizations that register voters could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per county and up to a year in prison for errors or failing to properly comply with the law’s vague requirements.

“We commend Judge Trauger on this just and timely decision. This law is an intentional and unconstitutional assault on voting rights. It is designed to discourage organizations from registering voters by imposing vague and excessive mandates and employing intimidation tactics. The law makes it so burdensome and risky for groups to register voters that many will decide it is not worth the effort. It is a deceptive attempt to stop voter registration efforts and to suppress voting among communities of color, college students, and other marginalized groups. It is already having a chilling effect on the work of The Andrew Goodman Foundation Vote Everywhere program and our partners,” explained David Goodman, President of The Andrew Goodman Foundation.

In rejecting the state of Tennessee’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote: “If the Tennessee Department of State is concerned that the public is confused about its role in voter registration, it is free to communicate with the public of its own accord.”

“The KKK’s assassination of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner in 1964 was part of the systemic violence and longstanding suppression of African Americans exercising their right to vote in this country. I think of these laws on a continuum. The current wave of voter suppression tactics are blatant unconstitutional attempts to use the law to limit the rights of minority groups. After the record voter turnout in Tennessee and across the country in 2018, lawmakers are increasingly focused on limiting voting and peddling fear, rather than making it more accessible and easier for their constituents to access the ballot box. This law is a threat to hard-fought civil rights and freedoms, and we commend the judge for rejecting the motion to dismiss the lawsuit,” said Maxim Thorne, Esq., Managing Director of The Andrew Goodman Foundation.

The creation of this law follows the 2018 elections where the state of Tennessee experienced historically high voter turnout, particularly among young voters and Black voters, despite its historically low turnout rate. Upon the signing of the legislation by Governor Bill Lee in early May, The Andrew Goodman Foundation along with the Tennessee State Conference of the N.A.A.C.P., Democracy Nashville-Democratic Communities, and The Equity Alliance filed a lawsuit in federal court contending that it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, including citizens’ free speech, free association, civil and due process rights, and the right to vote. Following the lawsuit, the coalition partners also filed a “Notice of Noncompliance” stating that the new law directly and substantially violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA). Most recently, The Andrew Goodman Foundation and its co-plaintiffs filed a preliminary injunction to prevent the implementation of the law.

Click here to read the federal court’s decision.

About The Andrew Goodman Foundation

The Andrew Goodman Foundation’s mission is to make young voices and votes a powerful force in democracy by training young leaders, engaging low-propensity voters, and challenging restrictive voter suppression laws. The Foundation’s Vote Everywhere program partners with America’s colleges and universities to provide resources, visibility, and mentoring to a national network of student leaders who involve their peers in participatory democracy through long-term voter engagement, public policy, and social justice initiatives. The organization is named after Andrew Goodman, a Freedom Summer volunteer and champion of equality and voting rights who was murdered by the KKK in 1964 at 20 years old while registering African Americans to vote in Mississippi.