On January 11, 1995, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Equip for Equality, and several individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the State of Illinois in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, asking the court to compel the defendants to enforce the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), 42 U.S.C. Section 1973gg, et seq., usually known as the Motor Voter law. The defendants counterargued that the law in question was unconstitutional because it violated the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On January 23, 1995, the Department of Justice also filed its own, separate lawsuit, complaining that the State of Illinois was refusing to comply with the NVRA; the two cases were promptly consolidated for joint resolution. The League of Women Voters had filed a suit similar to ACORN's; this, too, was consolidated into one action. Illinois defended its conduct by making a counterclaim, in which it argued that the Motor Voter law unconstitutionally imposed obligations on State actors to carry out a federal program. The DOJ was the "counter-defendant" to this claim.
The DOJ filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to compel Illinois to implement the Act; the State and the DOJ then also each sought summary judgment. (The DOJ sought a ruling that the Act was constitutional; the State a ruling that it was not.) On March 31, 1995, the district court (Judge Milton Shadur) handed down an opinion holding the NVRA constitutional, and issued an injunction ordering the defendants to enforce it. The court further declared invalid all parts of Illinois state law that contradicted the NVRA, and it ordered the defendants to designate a chief state election official to be responsible for coordinating the state's responsibilities under the NVRA. ACORN v. Edgar, 800 F.Supp. 1215 (N.D.Ill. 1995).
Illinois appealed the district court's judgment, asking the court to stay the enforcement of the injunction pending the appeal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit stayed the enforcement of the injunction, and on June 5, 1995, the Court of Appeals (Judges Posner, Kanne, and Easterbrook) affirmed the district court's decision with respect to all provisions of the injunction, except the provision that ordered the state to designate a chief state election official, which the Court of Appeals overturned. ACORN v. Edgar, 56 F.3d 792 (7th Cir. 1995).
On June 13, 1995, the district court (Judge Shadur) ordered the litigants to confer and develop an order (following the ruling of the Seventh Circuit) for the court to enter in the case. ACORN v. Edgar, 1995 WL 359900 (N.D.Ill. Jun. 13, 1995). On September 7, 1995, the district court ordered the defendants to develop a means of both written and oral assistance for Spanish-speaking voters. ACORN v. Edgar, 1995 WL 532120 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 7, 1995). The defendants appealed, and on January 26, 1996, the Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal, holding that the order did not modify a previously imposed injunction, nor was it a final decision. ACORN v. Edgar, 75 F.3d 304 (7th Cir. 1996).
On May 28, 1996, the district court issued an opinion and ordered that the costs of the defendants' delay in following the court's original order must be borne by the defendants, and not by the citizens who had been disenfranchised as a result of their noncompliance. ACORN v. Edgar, 1996 WL 284959 (N.D.Ill. May 28, 1996).
On July 17, 1996, the district court issued another opinion that modified the earlier injunction. The court pointed out that due to the defendants' delay in compliance with the NVRA, many of the state's citizens were disenfranchised, and the court ordered the defendants to take the following measures to remedy that problem: 1) provide a toll-free telephone number and a TTY/TDD number by which both English- and Spanish-speaking could arrange to register to vote under the NVRA, 2) for three weeks, the defendants were to post a public notice of the availability of assistance with voter registration, 3) for two and a half months, the defendants were to announce the availability of the toll free phone line on both television and radio stations statewide, 4) until the registration cut-off date for the November 1996 election, voter registration forms were to be offered to every individual who entered an Act-mandated facility, regardless of the reason that the individual entered the facility, 5) voter registration was to be available at all drivers services facilities, 6) voter registration opportunities were to be offered to every individual who applied for or renewed their driver's license or received a public assistance check from the state, 7) the defendants were to broadcast the information about registration aid on Spanish television channels, 8) the information about registration aid was to be posted on placards in the transit authority's public stations, 9) all registrations were to be sent to a central post office box, and then distributed to the local election officials, and 10) the state election board's regulations were to be amended to say that voters could register to vote via absentee ballot for good cause, and local election officials were permitted to correct erroneous mail-in registrations. ACORN v. Edgar, 1996 WL 406652 (N.D.Ill. July 17, 1996).
On August 5, 1996, the district court entered an agreed-upon compliance plan in the case, which included the measures listed in the court's order of July 17, 1996. ACORN v. Edgar, 1996 WL 447256 (N.D.Ill. Aug. 5, 1996). The defendants appealed, and on October 31, 1996, the Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal, holding that the defendants had not reserved the right to appeal the consent judgment. ACORN v. Edgar, 99 F.3d 261 (7th Cir. 1996).Kristen Sagar - 10/12/2008