April 7, 2016
Fish & Richardson Helps ACLU of Minnesota Win Important Pro Bono Voting Rights Case
Fish & Richardson won a pro bono voting rights case, in conjunction with the ACLU of Minnesota and Fredrikson & Byron P.A., that gives voters the right to get assistance from the person of their choice at the polls. Before challenging the state law, political candidates were barred from helping someone cast a ballot, despite that voter asking for help because they have a physical disability or cannot read English. State law also made it a crime for anyone to assist more than three people facing these same challenges.
On April 21, 2020, Ramsey County District Judge Thomas Gilligan entered an order that these restrictions on voting assistance violate both the federal Voting Rights Act and the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Under the order, the Secretary of State must post foreign language signs at polling sites informing Minnesotans that "any voter who requires assistance to vote...may be given assistance by a person of the voter's choice, other than the employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter's union."
The case was brought by the ACLU of Minnesota on behalf of Dai Thao, a candidate for office who faced criminal charges (which were previously dismissed) after assisting an elderly Hmong neighbor who needed help seeing and translating her ballot; community organizers Nelsie Yang and Amee Xiong; and Chong Lee, a first-generation Hmong American born in Thailand who had needed help voting.
Fish was brought into the case because of the firm's success safeguarding the voting rights of individuals in Texas with limited English proficiency. In that case, Fish argued successfully - in the Western District of Texas and at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals - that a provision of the Texas Election Code preventing voters from using the interpreter of their choice during the voting process violated the Voting Rights Act. Last year, Fish donated the nearly $200,000 in attorneys' fees awarded in the pro bono case to local organizations committed to civil rights.
Michael Florey, a senior principal in Fish's Twin Cities office, and Veena Tripathi, an associate in Twin Cities, served as pro bono counsel in the Minnesota ACLU case.
"The ACLU of Minnesota is pleased we were able to reach agreement with the Secretary of State that this law clearly violated the Constitution and Voting Rights Act, and was unenforceable," said ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney. "Voting is a fundamental right in our democracy, and a state law that made it harder for people with disabilities or language barriers to vote could not stand. This order is a recognition that Minnesotans should be able to get any assistance they need with voting."
"We are thrilled the ACLU asked us to work on this important case, and honored to be a part of this victory," said Florey. "This was another clear ruling that state restrictions on voting that are inconsistent with the Voting Rights Act are preempted and therefore unconstitutional. This is a win for democracy, and it has enormous implications in the upcoming 2020 elections."
Fish is committed to making pro bono work an integral part of the firm's professional culture, encouraging all of its legal professionals to take on pro bono matters as a regular part of their professional lives.
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