Judge Upholds DC Law Giving Noncitizens Voting Rights

March 22, 2024 by Tom Ramstack
Judge Upholds DC Law Giving Noncitizens Voting Rights
The federal courthouse in Washington. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit Thursday against the District of Columbia Board of Elections that sought to invalidate a law giving noncitizens a right to vote in local elections.

The Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act would allow anyone who is a resident of the District of Columbia to vote, even if they are illegal aliens.

The act also permits noncitizen residents to run for D.C. government positions and to serve on the District’s Board of Elections.

The law prompted opposition in Congress but not enough to override it.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said the seven plaintiffs could not prove they would suffer any damages from the law that might give them standing to sue.

“Their votes will not receive less weight or be treated differently than noncitizens’ votes; they are not losing representation in any legislative body…,” Jackson wrote in her order of dismissal. “At bottom, they are simply raising a generalized grievance, which is insufficient to confer standing.”

The lawsuit was filed by D.C. residents who are American citizens, two of whom are former candidates to the D.C. Council. They were represented by attorneys from the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates against what its website calls “the threat of unchecked mass migration.”

The lawsuit asked the judge to stop the Board of Elections from registering noncitizens to vote and from counting their votes. 

The D.C. Council approved the voting rights law in 2022. It prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to pass two resolutions that would have blocked enforcement of it.

The resolutions failed when the Senate declined to vote on them.

The plaintiffs said the law violates Fifth Amendment rights of citizen voters to equal protection and due process.

Their complaint filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., says that authorizing votes by noncitizens “dilutes the votes of native-born U.S. citizens living in D.C.”

The result is discrimination against American citizens based on their national origin, the plaintiffs argue.

They also said noncitizen votes deprive citizens of their constitutional right to self-government. The concept of self-government is derived from the First Amendment’s free speech rights that imply the popular voice of the people determines their leadership.

The D.C. Board of Elections argued in their motion for dismissal that the plaintiffs were alleging a “classic generalized grievance” but not sufficient connection to a personal harm from the law to prove standing and their right to sue.

The judge largely agreed with the Board of Elections.

Under Supreme Court precedent, vote “dilution” normally refers to gerrymandering, when voting districts are reallocated in a way that gives greater voting power to a favored group. Votes of the disfavored group, such as a racial minority or political party, are then diluted by unfair redistricting.

The plaintiffs would need to prove the Local Resident Voting Rights Amendment Act “irrationally favored” noncitizen voters before they could claim they were harmed by it, Jackson said.

“Here, the power of plaintiffs’ individual votes was not diminished in any way on that date,” she said. “Plaintiffs’ votes will be counted and weighted exactly as they were before.”

She cited a 1978 federal court ruling that supported the right to vote of Vietnam War draft evaders who left the United States but returned after the war.

Military officers and family members of deceased soldiers objected to their right to vote but the court said the plaintiffs could establish only a political grievance, not a harm that would give them standing to sue.

“In sum, plaintiffs have not alleged that they have personally been subjected to any sort of disadvantage as individual voters by virtue of the fact that noncitizens are permitted to vote, too,” Jackson said about the D.C. law.

The D.C.-based Immigration Reform Law Institute said it would appeal the ruling.

The case is Hall et al. v. D.C. Board of Elections.

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