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9 HBCU Students Just Made the Voter-ID War Hot Again

Members of the Nashville Student Organizing Committee at the Tennessee Capitol with a message that voter-ID laws silence students’ voices, March 25, 2014, in Nashville. (Courtesy of Nashville Student Organizing Committee)
Members of the Nashville Student Organizing Committee at the Tennessee Capitol with a message that voter-ID laws silence students’ voices, March 25, 2014, in Nashville. (Courtesy of Nashville Student Organizing Committee)

 

(The Root) – The voter-ID war just opened up a huge new front. This time in Tennessee. A group of nine students from HBCUs Fisk and Tennessee State have filed a federal lawsuit against the Volunteer State’s heavily contested and controversial voter-ID law.

The suit was filed by the Nashville Student Organizing Committee, a coalition of student activists established in February 2014. The plaintiffs were all disallowed from voting in 2014 because they carried student IDs as identification. NSOC retained the Washington, D.C.-based Fair Elections Legal Network, which then partnered with the local Nashville-based firm Barrett Johnston Martin & Garrison as part of a legal project to restore student voting rights in the state.

The case marks a highly unprecedented turning point in the ongoing conflict over voter ID and other Republican-led voter-suppression laws accused of targeting Democratic-friendly young, minority and low-income voters. With Republicans expanding their electoral gains in state legislatures, voter-ID laws have become a common feature in many key states and, as initial data suggest, disproportionately impacted large populations of color.

Observers are watching the new Tennessee case with heavy interest, since it appears to be the first student-led legal action of its kind. Some view it as Supreme Court-worthy and a savvy political maneuver on the part of black youth activists that could have far-reaching implications beyond Tennessee. The suit may very well advance because the Middle Tennessee federal district court is dominated by judges appointed by Democratic presidents. Chief Judge Kevin Sharp was recently appointed by President Barack Obama.

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