What Supreme Court's Ohio Decision Means for Voting Rights

In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that Ohio and other states are allowed to purge voters from their rolls who are inactive and do not respond to requests to confirm their residency.

Ohio has removed more than two million voters from its rolls since 2011, with black voters more likely to be purged than white voters. A number of civil rights groups argued that the decision would likely aid Republicans but hurt Democrats and voters of color. Republicans typically have an advantage in low-turnout races.

Still, Alito wrote in his decision that Ohio had done its due diligence and "removes registrants only if they have failed to vote and have failed to respond to a notice."

"A state violates the failure-to-vote clause only if it removes registrants for no reason other than their failure to vote," he wrote.

Protesters gather during a rally held by the group Common Cause in front of the U.S. Supreme Court January 10, 2018 in Washington, DC. Voting rights activists rallied to oppose voter roll purges as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the Husted v. A Philip Randolph Institute, a challenge to Ohio's voter roll purges. Win McNamee/Getty Images

The 5-4 decision fell strictly along ideological lines, with the larger, conservative bloc voting together against the more liberal justices. Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the dissenting opinion said that, because most voters tend to ignore the notices they recieve, it's their failure to show up to the polls that constitutes the main reason they're kicked off the rolls.

"More often than not, the state fails to receive anything back from the registrant, and the fact that the state hears nothing from the registrant essentially proves nothing at all," he explained.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown wrote on Twitter that "Ohio should be working to make voting easier, not harder. Instead, today's decision empowers Ohio to further strip away the right to vote for thousands of Ohioans, threatening the integrity of our state's election process."

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan called the ruling "deeply disappointing," adding that "the right to vote is a fundamental one—and it is under constant assault."

The Supreme Court has a history of voters' rights decisions that benefit the Republican party. In 2000's Bush v. Gore, the court ruled that recounting votes in Florida was unconstitutional, allowing President George W. Bush to take office. In 2010's Citizen's United v. FEC, the court decided that corporations can legally pump unlimited amounts of cash into independent political advertisements. And in 2013's Shelby County v. Holder, the court found that parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were unconstitutional. The court removed a section of the act that required states and counties with a history of voter suppression to obtain federal preclearance before altering their local voter laws.