Voting Rights

Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP

Constitutionality of South Carolina’s Racially Gerrymandered Redistricting Maps

Argument: 10.11.2022

Question(s) Presented: (1) Whether the Court should affirm the lower court’s holding that Defendants, South Carolina legislators, racially gerrymandered South Carolina Congressional District 1 in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; and (2) Whether the lower court erred in finding that Congressional District 1 was designed with a racially discriminatory purpose and effect?

This is a racial-gerrymandering challenge to South Carolina’s current congressional and legislative redistricting maps for the Congressional District 1. The case challenges the constitutionality of how South Carolina legislators handled the redistricting process after the 2020 census. The case was brought on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and an individual voter, Taiwan Scott.  The Legal Defense Fund (LDF), alongside the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of South Carolina, University of Maryland, School of Law, Professor Chris Bryant, Arnold & Porter, and General Counsel’s Office of the NAACP represent the Plaintiffs. 


Plaintiffs alleged that when South Carolina’s General Assembly enacted S.865, they deliberately adopted an unconstitutional and racially gerrymandered map in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment. They alleged that the map intentionally discriminates against Black voters and denies Black voters’ equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice. The lawsuit forefronts South Carolina’s long history of racial discrimination and alleges that the new map is a racial gerrymander that intentionally packs and cracks Black communities. “Cracking” refers to splitting communities of color into different districts to prevent them from exercising greater political power. “Packing” refers to placing people of color into the same district in greater numbers than necessary to elect candidates of choice to prevent them from exercising greater political power in surrounding districts. 

LDF's Redistricting Work

Achieving equal representation and being able to cast equal and effective votes depends in part on redistricting maps that are drawn fairly to reflect and respect our communities.  Learn more about LDF’s work to protect vulnerable communities from disenfranchisement through discriminatory voting policies.

On January 6, 2023, following an eight-day trial, a unanimous federal three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for South Carolina ordered the legislators to redraw its 2022 enacted congressional map. The panel ruled that a district anchored in Charleston County is a racial gerrymander designed with discriminatory purpose. The unanimous three-judge-panel ruled that the Legislators unconstitutionally set out to achieve an artificially-low target Black population in Congressional District 1, which includes Charleston County. The district court held that the map violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and ordered the legislature to submit a remedial plan. South Carolina appealed directly to the Supreme Court. The Court granted certiorari.  


On August 11, 2023, LDF and other civil rights organizations filed its  brief with the Supreme Court for the Plaintiffs. On October 10, 2023, LDF Attorney Leah Aden will present oral argument before  the Court. Here is LDF’s statement on the Court’s decision to hear the case, explaining that it is crucial for the Court to uphold the lower court’s decision and protect Black South Carolina voters from blatant unconstitutional racial gerrymandering and intentional vote dilution.  

Economic Justice

Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer

Defending Civil Rights Testers’ Right to Sue under the Americans with Disabilities Act

Argument: 10.04.2023

Question(s) Presented: Whether an Americans with Disabilities Act “tester” has Article III standing to file a lawsuit challenging a place of public accommodation’s failure to provide disability accessibility information on its website, even if the tester lacks any intention of visiting that place of public accommodation?

The Plaintiff, Deborah Laufer, a person with a disability residing in Florida, filed suit against Acheson Hotels, LLC, a hotel operator based in Maine. Laufer is a civil rights “tester” who has researched hundreds of hotel websites and their online reservation systems to determine if they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). When she went to Acheson Hotels’ website, she discovered that the website did not provide accessibility information. 


The Court narrowed its focus on the issue of whether ADA testers have standing to challenge ADA violations of their rights when they do not personally intend to visit the place of public accommodation – in this case the Acheson Hotels.  


Last October, after a lower court dismissal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit reversed the district court ruling in favor of Laufer. The First Circuit held that Laufer does, in fact, have legal grounds under the ADA to sue because the website she personally visited violated her rights.  Acheson Hotels, LLC appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, which accepted the case earlier this year. The case is scheduled  for oral argument on October 4. 


LDF and eight other organizations filed an amicus brief arguing that under longstanding precedent, people who have personally experienced unlawful discrimination suffer a dignitary harm that gives them standing to sue in federal court. Further, the brief pushes back on the argument that dignitary harms from discrimination can be “self-inflicted,” and unequivocally argues that the entity that discriminates is always the one who inflicts the harm.   


It is critical that the Court recognize its repeated precedent that discrimination itself causes cognizable dignitary harm that gives plaintiffs standing to sue, even if that plaintiff is motivated to enforce the law as a tester. The onus should never fall on the person who is discriminated against to avoid harm, but rather is the one who inflicts the harm to be held responsible. 

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Community Financial Services Association of America, Limited

Constitutionality of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Funding Scheme

Argument: 10.03.2023


This case involves a challenge to the constitutionality of the funding scheme of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) under 12 U.S.C. § 5497. The CFPB is an independent agency within the Federal Reserve. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act and the Consumer Protection Act  creating CFPB in response to the 2007 financial crisis. Under the statute, CFPB receives funding directly from the Federal Reserve, rather than through congressional appropriations.  


In 2017, the payday-lending industry challenged CFPB’s rule that would enforce a disciplinary action against payday lenders who attempted to withdraw payments from borrowers’ bank accounts after two consecutive attempts due to insufficient funds. The district court held that the CFPB’s funding scheme was not unconstitutional. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the funding scheme violated the Constitution’s Appropriations Clause. The Appropriations Clause in Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution requires congressional “Appropriations” for any “Money … drawn from the Treasury.” The CFPB appealed to the Supreme Court.  


The Fifth Circuit’s ruling threatens the existence of the CFPB. The Supreme Court’s decision has the potential to inflict immense legal and practical harms on consumers and the financial sector. It also risks the funding scheme of the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Mint, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which are also not funded by annual congressional appropriations.  

Muldrow v. City of St. Louis

Determining the Scope of discriminatory transfers that “Materially Disadvantaged” Employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Argument: date pending

Question(s) Presented: Whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in an employer’s transfer decisions absent a separate court determination that the transfer decision caused a significant disadvantage?

The Supreme Court will decide what protections Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides employees who contend they were the victim of a discriminatory transfer. Plaintiff Jatonya Muldrow, a sergeant with the St. Louis Police Department, was involuntarily transferred from her position in the department’s Intelligence Division to a patrol position. She alleges that the transfer resulted from her supervisor’s desire to hire a man for her position. Muldrow brought a Title VII claim against her department for sex discrimination. The district court granted the police department’s motion for summary judgment holding that a discriminatory transfer that does not “produce[] a material employment disadvantage” is “not an adverse employment action” under Title VII. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling for the police department, holding that discriminatory job transfers and denials of requested transfers are lawful under Title VII when they do not impose “materially significant disadvantages” on employees.  


LDF and two other organizations filed an amicus brief, arguing that the Eighth Circuit’s materially significant disadvantages standard is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s recognition that remedying dignitary harms is the central purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Further affirming the Circuit Court, would permit employer discriminatory transfers where the employee cannot demonstrate a “materially significant disadvantage.” In its amicus brief, LDF asserts that the new interpretation effectively resurrects the separate but equal doctrine and is antithetical to Brown v. Board


This case threatens to increase the hurdles for Title VII plaintiffs, which will disproportionately harm Black workers.  

Criminal Justice

Pulsifier v. United States

Determining Whether the First Step Act’s “Safety Valve” Provision Applies

Argument: 10.02.2023

Question(s) Presented: Whether a defendant during the sentencing phase of their criminal proceedings must demonstrate that they do not meet any of the criteria listed in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f) to qualify for a sentence lower than the statutory minimum.

This case involves the “safety valve” provision of the First Step Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3553(f)(1). This Act enables district courts to ignore mandatory minimum sentences where a criminal defendant is convicted of certain nonviolent drug offenses and has a criminal history that meets other criteria enumerated in § 3553(f)(1).  If the safety valve provision applies, district courts can impose a sentence pursuant to the Sentencing Guidelines that takes into account the individual defendant’s circumstances. The U.S. Circuit Courts are split on the interpretation of the safety valve’s provision. The Eighth (which ruled against Mr. Pulsifer), Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits have held that a criminal defendant is ineligible for safety valve relief, if they meet any of the three criteria. Contrastingly, the Fourth, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuits have adopted Mr. Pulsifer’s interpretation, under which a criminal defendant can be eligible for safety-valve relief even if he meets one or two of the criteria.  


The Court’s decision in this case will directly impact the number of people eligible for relief from harmful mandatory minimums under the First Step Act, a law that was designed to mitigate some of the unnecessarily harsh mandatory minimums.  

United States v. Rahimi

Constitutionality of Firearms Prohibition for Persons Subject to Domestic-Violence Restraining Orders under the Second Amendment

Argument: 11.07.2023

Question(s) Presented: Whether 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8), which prohibits the possession of firearms by persons subject to domestic-violence restraining orders, violates the Second Amendment of the Constitution on its face?

This case involves the constitutionality of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(8). This provision criminalizes gun ownership by anyone subject to a domestic-violence restraining order. The Petitioner Zackey Rahimi argues that the law violates his Second Amendment right to bear arms. After a violent argument with his girlfriend, a Texas state court entered a domestic violence restraining order against him and prohibited him from possessing a gun. While the order was still in effect, police officers, pursuant to a warrant, discovered weapons and ammunition in Mr. Rahimi’s home. Mr. Rahimi was charged and convicted with violating section 922(g)(8). Initially, the Fifth Circuit upheld his conviction. After the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Fifth Circuit reversed its decision throwing out Mr. Rahimi’s convictionIn Bruen the Supreme Court held New York’s handgun-licensing scheme, similar to section 922(g)(8), violated the Second Amendment. According to the Fifth Circuit, Mr. Rahimi retained his right to bear arms under the Second Amendment where, as the Supreme Court explained in Bruen, the federal government could show that the ban was consistent with the country’s historical tradition of regulating firearms, which it did not show.

McElrath v. Georgia

Determining the Application of the Double Jeopardy Clause

Argument: Date Pending

Question(s) Presented: Whether the Double Jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits a second prosecution for a crime of which a defendant was previously acquitted?

The Court will consider whether the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment prevents Georgia from retrying Damian McElrath on a charge on which he had previously been acquitted. The Double Jeopardy Clause guarantees that no person can be “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” In 2017, Mr. McElrath was found not guilty of malice murder by reason of insanity and guilty but mentally ill of felony murder and aggravated assault. The Georgia Supreme Court vacated both the conviction and the acquittal and remanded for a new trial on both charges. Mr. McElrath asserts that the Double Jeopardy Clause prevents Georgia from being able to retry him on the malice murder charge for which he had been previously acquitted. The Supreme Court has long held that verdicts of acquittal are final and unreviewable, even if the acquittal is inconsistent with a simultaneously rendered conviction. Thus, retrying a defendant for a crime of which he was acquitted would put him in jeopardy again, violating the Constitution. 

Other Civil Rights Cases

Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo

Determining the Future of the Chevron Doctrine and Deference to Agencies

Argument: Date Pending

Question(s) Presented: Whether the Court should overrule Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, or at least clarify whether statutory silence concerning the executive branch's authority, creates ambiguity requiring courts must provide deference to the agency?

In this case, Petitioners, a group of herring fishers, ask the Court to overturn the 1984 precedent decision Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. Chevron held that courts should defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of an ambiguous statute as long as the agency’s interpretation is reasonable. This case established the Chevron doctrine. The Court has limited its review solely to the question of whether it should overrule the Chevron doctrine, or, in the alternative, at least clarify whether statutory silence creates ambiguity that requires deference to an agency’s interpretation. In short, the Court will decide whether agencies or courts are better positioned to resolve ambiguities in statutes in which Congress gives power to agencies. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected the challenge to the Chevron doctrine ruling against the fishers, holding that the agency’s interpretation of federal fishery law was a reasonable one.  


A decision to overrule the Chevron doctrine would dramatically impact the administrative state and shift power to courts to limit executive and agency actions. This would have wide implications for all federal agencies from environmental regulation to public health to immigration and more. It would also throw a wrench into Congress’s legislative agenda, where over the last 40 years Congress has legislated with Chevron in mind. Relying on Chevron, Congress has drafted statutes with broad guidelines delegating technical details to agencies.