The Supreme Court on Monday declined the Republican National Committee's request to lift a three-decade-old court order that limits the national GOP's ability to challenge voters' eligibility at the polls.
The case, Republican National Committee vs. Democratic National Committee, dealt with a consent decree issued in 1982 that prevents the RNC from engaging in some voter fraud prevention efforts without prior court consent. It specifically said the RNC could not engage in ballot security efforts (later defined in 1987 as “ballot integrity, ballot security or other efforts to prevent or remedy vote fraud,” according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit opinion), especially in areas where racial or ethnic makeup could be considered a reason for the activities.
A response to claims of voter intimidation in minority areas in the 1970s and early 1980s, the decree allowed the RNC to continue “normal poll watching” operations while barring activities that could be aimed at voter suppression, though the RNC complained to the courts that the distinction was unclear and difficult to follow. The decree effectively put the national party on the sidelines as concern about voter fraud became more and more pronounced in GOP ranks in recent years and as states passed a series of voter-identification measures.
In deciding the case, which stems from a 2008 lawsuit brought by the DNC, the district court clarified ballot security efforts as “any program aimed at combating voter fraud by preventing potential voters from registering to vote or casting a ballot,” and upheld the consent decree while adding a Dec. 1, 2017, expiration date.
The RNC appealed, saying that its decades-long compliance and good faith should justify ending the consent decree.
The Third Circuit upheld the district court’s decision and modification, saying that just because the RNC had largely complied with the order, the “mere passage of time” does not count as a change of facts that would warrant lifting the order.
The Supreme Court, as is customary, did not offer an explanation for declining to hear the RNC's petition.