Louisiana discriminated against naturalized citizens by requiring them to provide citizenship documents when registering to vote – a requirement that was not asked of other potential voters who were only required to swear that they are U.S. citizens. The SPLC filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three naturalized citizens who had to meet the requirement, which dated back to 1874.
VAYLA New Orleans, a nonprofit organization that had attempted to register voters, was also a plaintiff.
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. It describes how the requirement violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by singling out naturalized citizens. This practice also violated Title III of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Voter Registration Act, according to the lawsuit.
Under Louisiana law, all registrants had to swear they are citizens when completing voter registration forms. These forms did not state that naturalized citizens must provide documentation. The website for Louisiana’s secretary of state also failed to mention this requirement. After registering to vote, a letter would be sent to these potential voters demanding that they provide proof of citizenship, such as a U.S. passport or a certificate of naturalization.
There were approximately 72,250 naturalized citizens living in Louisiana at the time of the lawsuit. Voter registration groups, such as VAYLA New Orleans, faced difficulties as they registered naturalized citizens only for these potential voters to discover later that they must provide documentation. The obstacles created by the requirement prevented many people from voting in the 2016 presidential primary.
The Fair Elections Legal Network served as the SPLC’s co-counsel on the case.