Voter ID Law Discriminates Against College Students and Violates U.S. Constitution
Washington, DC – A federal lawsuit was filed today in the U.S. District Court in Nashville challenging Tennessee’s voter ID law as violating the voting rights of Tennessee college and university students. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a student organization and nine college students by the Fair Elections Legal Network, a national voting rights organization, and Nashville law firm, Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison, LLC. The lawsuit asks the court to rule that the current voter ID law violates the 14th Amendment and 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because it discriminates against college students by excluding student ID cards from the list of accepted voter IDs.
Since 2011, the Tennessee General Assembly has consistently made it harder for young college students to vote, while making it easier for older voters to comply with or avoid the ID requirement entirely. The voter ID law allows voters to use public college and university faculty and employee ID cards but not student ID cards issued by the same institutions. The suit alleges legislators have purposely singled out students, particularly out-of-state students, in order to discourage them from voting in Tennessee, as is their right.
This case asks that college and university student ID cards be added to the list of accepted voter IDs. Of the states that have recently adopted strict photo voter ID laws, only Tennessee, Texas, and South Carolina, as well as North Carolina beginning in 2016, refuse to accept student IDs.
The plaintiffs include the Nashville Student Organizing Committee (NSOC), a student-run social justice organization that has long advocated for making student IDs an accepted form of voter ID, and nine individual students from public and private colleges and universities in Tennessee, including Fisk University and Tennessee State University, both historically black institutions in Nashville.
The suit’s organizational plaintiff NSOC released the following statement: “In this time of reflection and commemoration of the Selma March for voting rights, the Nashville Student Organizing Committee is continuing the efforts started 50 years ago by challenging Tennessee’s regressive voter ID law that seeks to silence us as students. Voting is a moral imperative, and it is our hope that this case will create lasting change.”
”For four years, the Tennessee General Assembly has rejected every attempt to add college student IDs to the voter ID list, systematically shutting young voters out of the political process just as they become eligible to vote,” said Jon Sherman, staff attorney for the Fair Elections Legal Network. “This case will demonstrate that when politicians tinker with a voter ID list to pick their preferred voters, they violate the Constitution and the most basic aspirations of our democracy.”
“For more than five decades, this law firm has battled to ensure the civil rights of all are respected and honored. The voter ID law is just the latest version of a long line of official attempts to suppress voters,” said Douglas S. Johnston, Jr. of Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison LLC. “I look forward to joining the battle to undo this attempt to curb the voting rights of young people.”
The full text of the complaint can be found here.