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Case Name A. Phillip Randolph Institute v. Hargett VR-TN-0070
Docket / Court 3:20-cv-00374 ( M.D. Tenn. )
State/Territory Tennessee
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Attorney Organization Lawyers Comm. for Civil Rights Under Law
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: On May 1, 2020, two qualified voters and five public interest organizations filed this lawsuit against the Tennessee Secretary of State, the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections, and the Shelby County district attorney general, challenging Tennessee’s restrictions on absentee ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: On May 1, 2020, two qualified voters and five public interest organizations filed this lawsuit against the Tennessee Secretary of State, the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections, and the Shelby County district attorney general, challenging Tennessee’s restrictions on absentee voters, its criminal penalties against those who aid voters to obtain absentee ballots, and the inability for absentee voters to fix their ballots if they are rejected due to errors such as a signature mismatch. The petitioners sought declaratory and injunctive relief. No outcome yet.


On May 1, 2020, two qualified voters and five public interest organizations whose many members are not eligible for vote by mail filed this lawsuit against the Tennessee Secretary of State, the Tennessee Coordinator of Elections, and the Shelby County district attorney general. The plaintiffs challenged Tennessee’s restrictions on absentee voters, its criminal penalties against those who aid voters to obtain absentee ballots, and the inability for absentee voters to fix their ballots if they are rejected due to errors such as a signature mismatch.

The plaintiffs brought this lawsuit as a declaratory action under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-02, and as an injunctive action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the current vote by mail system was in violation of the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the vote by mail eligibility criteria was a violation of the plaintiff’s fundamental right to vote, that the defendants’ failure to provide absentee voters with any opportunity to cure perceived signature-related deficiencies with their absentee ballot was a denial of the plaintiffs’ procedural due process, and that criminalizing the encouragement of voting through absentee ballots violated the plaintiff’s rights of free speech and association. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief enjoining the defendants from excluding any eligible voter from casting an absentee ballot in the August and November 2020 elections, rejecting absentee ballots on the basis of alleged signature-related deficiencies without first providing an opportunity to cure, and enforcing criminal penalties for the unsolicited dissemination of requests for application for absentee ballots by any person. They further sought an order requiring the defendants to establish a procedure by which voters may attempt to cure deficiencies in their absentee ballots, and an order requiring additional reasonable steps necessary for facilitating absentee voting in the context of a pandemic, including broadly publicizing the relief granted by the court, instructing and training election officials and poll workers as to the relief granted, and providing for the in-person drop-off of absentee ballots on election days in 2020. They also sought attorneys’ fees.

The plaintiffs were represented by the Campaign Legal Center and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and private attorneys. This lawsuit was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. The case was assigned to Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw, who self-recused. The case was then reassigned to Eli J. Richardson.

Tennessee is among the few states with an excuse requirement for the upcoming August and November 2020 elections in light of COVID-19. The five organizations, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Equity Alliance, Free Hearts, Memphis Central Labor Council, and the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, face restrictions preventing them from carrying out necessary voter engagement activities. Under current Tennessee law, criminal penalties for giving voters unsolicited requests for an absentee ballot include up to 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both. The two individual plaintiffs are ineligible under current laws to receive absentee ballots in the mail.

On June 12, 2020 the plaintiffs submitted an amended complaint, further seeking to enjoin the defendants from excluding otherwise absentee-eligible voters from casting an absentee ballot solely because they are first-time voters. Current law requires that voters who register to vote by mail must vote in person in their first election after registering, regardless of whether they are otherwise eligible to vote by mail. The same day, they filed a motion for a preliminary injunction.

The defendants responded to the complaint on June 26, arguing that they have the “broad powers to determine the conditions under which the right of suffrage may be exercised,” and that the plaintiffs seek to “upend the current election plans and substitute a plan of their own design” that will result in a dramatic increase in absentee voting.

The case is ongoing.

Averyn Lee - 07/04/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Due Process: Procedural Due Process
Due Process: Substantive Due Process
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Jurisdiction-wide
General
Voting
Voting access
Medical/Mental Health
COVID-19 Mitigation Requested
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Voting
Election administration
Voter qualifications
Voter registration rules
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) Shelby County district attorney general
Tennessee Coordinator of Elections
Tennessee Secretary of State
Plaintiff Description Two qualified voters and five organizations challenging Tennessee’s restrictions on absentee voters.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations Lawyers Comm. for Civil Rights Under Law
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted Moot
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 05/01/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  A. Phillip Randolph Institute v. Hargett
Campaign Legal Center
Date: May 1, 2020
By: Campaign Legal Center
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Docket(s)
3:20-cv-00374 (M.D. Tenn.)
VR-TN-0070-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 07/06/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
VR-TN-0070-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 05/01/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Amended Complaint [ECF# 39]
VR-TN-0070-0008.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Part 1/4) [ECF# 40, 40-1, 40-2]
VR-TN-0070-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Part 2/4) [ECF# 40-2]
VR-TN-0070-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Part 3/4) [ECF# 40-2, 40-3, 40-4]
VR-TN-0070-0004.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Part 4/4) [ECF# 40-4 to 40-9]
VR-TN-0070-0005.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/12/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Memorandum in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 43]
VR-TN-0070-0006.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/15/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Defendant's Response in Opposition to Motion for Preliminary Injunction [ECF# 46]
VR-TN-0070-0007.pdf | Detail
Date: 06/26/2020
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
show all people docs
Judges Frensley, Jeffrey S Court not on record [Magistrate] show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-9000
Richardson, Eli Jeremy (M.D. Tenn.) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Chaudhuri, Pooja (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Conarck, Jacob (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Danahy, Molly (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Diaz, Jonathan (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Doshi, Ravi (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Harbison, William L. (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Helton, Lisa K (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Lang, Danielle (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
López, Christina R.B. (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Rosenberg, Ezra (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Sabis, Christopher C (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0001 | VR-TN-0070-0002 | VR-TN-0070-0003 | VR-TN-0070-0004 | VR-TN-0070-0005 | VR-TN-0070-0006 | VR-TN-0070-0008 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Campbell, Andrew B. (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0007 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Cloutier, Matthew Daniel (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0007
Kleinfelter, Janet M. (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0007 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Rieger, Alexander Stuart (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0007 | VR-TN-0070-9000
Slatery, Herbert III (Tennessee) show/hide docs
VR-TN-0070-0007

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