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What Constitutional and Election Law Professors Are Saying About the Supreme Court's Ohio Voter Purge Ruling

Are other states poised to follow Ohio's lead?
Morning light shines outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on March 20th, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Morning light shines outside the U.S. Supreme Court building on March 20th, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Ohio's aggressive system for removing names from its voter rolls does not violate federal law.

Registered Ohio voters are sent a confirmation notice after they fail to vote in a federal election. Anyone who does not return the notice and then does not vote in two consecutive elections is removed from the voter rolls.

Civil rights groups oppose this method, arguing that it's a violation of the National Voter Registration Act, which prohibits states from removing voters from the rolls because of a failure to vote. But in its decision, the Supreme Court wrote that, because confirmation notices are also a factor, the method does not violate federal law.

Pacific Standard asked professors of constitutional and election law from across the country to weigh in on the significance of this ruling and what kind of precedent it sets.

Michael Gerhardt, Professor in Constitutional Law, University of North Carolina

This decision undoubtedly will invite state legislatures with Republican majorities to adopt the same measures to disproportionately remove minorities from their voting rosters. That is an unfortunate result, especially given that the right to vote is so precious and not so easily taken away, without warning or meaningful recourse.

Samuel Issacharoff, Professor of Constitutional Law, New York University

The case is significant not so much for any new legal ruling, but for what it says about the state of our national politics. The court signed off on a piece, a small one perhaps, of the concerted effort to make it harder for people to vote. The heart of democracy for centuries has been the expansion of the franchise. Our democratic clocks are marching in reverse.

Richard Hasen, Professor of Law and Political Science, University of California–Irvine

The real issue underlying the case—whether Ohio's law had a discriminatory impact on low income and minority voters—was not really what the Justices were debating. It was more about how to read two complex federal statutes. But Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor flagged the voter suppression issue, and I suspect that issue will be back before the Supreme Court in one form or another in the next few years.

Erwin Chemerinsky, Law Professor and Dean, University of California–Berkeley

My fear is that this will encourage other states to adopt similar laws. As Justice Sotomayor said, history shows that such laws are very much used to disadvantage racial minorities.