The Right to Enter and Abide…and Vote

February 7, 2013

VoteRepublican state lawmakers in Indiana are trying to block college students who come from out of state and pay out-of-state tuition from voting in Indiana.  Some have already noted that this is almost surely unconstitutional, referring vaguely to a Supreme Court decision “from the 1970s.”

That decision was Dunn v. Blumstein. In 1970, James Blumstein moved to Tennessee to take a position as an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, and when he discovered that Tennessee law required him to have state residency of at least one year before he could register to vote, he sued. The Supreme Court held that the Tennessee law violated not only Blumstein’s right to equal protection and his right to vote, but also his fundamental right “to enter and abide in any State in the Union.” (This last right has been described as the “right to travel” or the “right to migrate”—a fundamental constitutional right that we don’t hear about too often.)

The law proposed by Republicans in Indiana would require out-of-state college students to be residents for a full year before being able to vote in Indiana—precisely what the Tennessee law was requiring inDunn v. Blumstein. Seems like a no-brainer that this law would be struck down immediately as unconstitutional. But I suppose that won’t necessarily stop state legislators from passing it.