Virgin Islands, Constitutional Law Scholars support review in territorial voting rights case

by Jul 3, 2018Courts0 comments

Today the US Virgin Islands and two constitutional law scholars added their voices in support of Supreme Court review in Segovia v United States, a case seeking to expand voting rights in US territories. This follows Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands Bar Association, and a group of leading voting rights scholars filing briefs last month to support the appeal. The additional briefs were permitted after the Supreme Court requested a response from the federal and state defendants in the case, a move which signals the appeal is receiving serious consideration from the Court. A total of five amicus briefs have now been filed in support of the Segovia appeal; most appeals do not receive support from even a single amicus brief. The plaintiffs in Segovia are represented by Equally American, a non-profit organization that fights to advance equality and civil rights for the 4 million Americans living in US territories.

The two new briefs come just a day after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated Justice Kennedy’s vacancy will be filled this Fall.

“If the Supreme Court vacancy is filled as quickly as Senator McConnnell has suggested, the Court will likely continue to grant its usual steady stream of new cases, so there may not be much, if any, impact on our appeal,” said Neil Weare, President and Founder of Equally American. “Moreover, the questions raised by our appeal span across the usual ideological lines. For example, the federalism and standing concerns highlighted in the brief filed by constitutional law scholars should be of interest to Justices across the ideological spectrum.”

This week, Equally American also launched a new crowdfunding campaign to help support its efforts to bring the issue of voting rights in US territories to the Supreme Court. “Our crowdfunding campaign is off to a quick start. But we encourage anyone who agrees that the right to vote shouldn’t depend on where you live to consider making a contribution,” said Weare. “The overall number of donors is very important, so any contribution, no matter how small, really helps.”

US Virgin Islands arguments

The US Virgin Islands’ brief emphasizes the important role federal decisions play in the lives of Virgin Islanders, even as citizens living in the Virgin Islands are denied the right to vote for President and any voting representation in Congress. It also highlights how lower courts’ failure to treat the denial of voting rights in US territories the same as they would in other parts of the United States “perpetuate[s] a second-class treatment of US citizens who reside in the territories that is incompatible with the Constitution.”

“Virgin Islanders deserve to have the same voting rights other Americans enjoy,” said US Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker. “We hope the Supreme Court will act to expand voting rights in in the US Virgin Islands and other territories, as the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection demands.”

Constitutional Law Scholars arguments

Professors Justin Weinstein-Tull and Joshua Sellers, scholars of Constitutional Law Stanford Law School at Arizona State University, challenge the Seventh Circuit’s unprecedented conclusion that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge discriminatory federal statutes whenever that discrimination could be addressed through state action.

“Federal laws that discriminate against voters should not be immune from challenge just because a state could theoretically take action to prevent that discrimination.” said Justin Weinstein Tull, Thomas C. Grey Fellow and Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School, and a former attorney in the Voting Section of the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. “The Supreme Court should make clear that making states solely responsible for fixing discriminatory federal laws is incompatible with the principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution.”

Federal and State defendants have requested and been granted an extension to file a response until July 30, 2018, after which the Segovia petitioners will be able to file a final reply.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to grant the appeal in Segovia v United States during its “long conference,” currently scheduled for September 24, 2018.