James Blumstein addresses voting rights in testimony before Senate subcommittee Sept. 5

Oct 4, 2019

More than 47 years after constitutional law scholar James F. Blumstein won his first Supreme Court case, Dunn v. Blumstein, in 1972, he testified about the case before the U.S. Senate Committee of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

After he was denied the right to register to vote by the Tennessee Election Commission. Blumstein sued the State of Tennessee, just weeks after moving to Nashville in 1970 to join the faculty of Vanderbilt Law School,

Aware that an election primary was scheduled on August 6, 1970, Blumstein sought to register to vote on July 1, only to be rebuffed by an election official who informed him that Tennessee imposed a one-year residency requirement on U.S. citizens moving to Tennessee from other states. Blumstein also discovered that the state imposed a separate, three-month residency requirement on current Tennessee residents who moved to a different county within the state.

His lawsuit challenged the durational residency requirement as unconstitutional disenfranchisement. Blumstein had not yet been admitted to the Tennessee Bar when he argued his case before a panel of three federal judges on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in late July. After the court ruled in his favor, Tennessee Attorney General David Pack appealed the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Blumstein thus became the first of his Yale Law classmates to argue a case before the nation’s highest court when he argued Dunn v. Blumstein on Nov. 16, 1971. “In fact, it was the first case I ever argued,” he said. He was 26.

The Court ruled 6-1 in Blumstein’s favor. The majority opinion, written by Justice Thurgood Marshall and announced on March 21, 1972, held that Tennessee’s durational residency requirements for voting violated the Equal Protection Clause “as they are not necessary to further a compelling state interest.”

Blumstein delivered his testimony, “Dunn. v. Blumstein: Litigation Experiences and Lessons,” to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law on Sept. 5. Noting that the State of Tennessee had sought to justify its durational residency requirement as a means of protecting against voter fraud, he stated, “The system of voter registration was considered by the Court a sufficient guard against voter fraud, allowing the Court to invalidate the durational residency requirements.”

He continued: “I believe that…Dunn v. Blumstein likely enfranchised more voters than any other single case. An important take-away is that taking claims of voter fraud seriously is important. Providing credible and effective safeguards against voter fraud allows for courts and policymakers to undo unnecessary voting restrictions that are targeted at voter fraud

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