Dale Ho has spent the past fifteen years litigating voting rights cases in state and federal courts, racking up both victories and defeats in the process. Ho has now been tapped for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Dale Ho graduated from Princeton University in 1999 and then from Yale Law School. After graduating, Ho clerked for Judge Robert S. Smith on the New York Court of Appeals and for Judge Barbara Jones on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
Ho then joined the firm of Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobsen and then worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In 2013, Ho joined the American Civil Liberties Union, where he currently serves as Director of the Voting Rights project.
History of the Seat
Ho has been tapped for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to a seat vacated by Judge Katherine Forrest, who resigned from the Southern District on September 11, 2018. On December 2, 2019, the Trump Administration nominated DOJ career official Iris Lan to fill the vacancy, but Lan was blocked from confirmation due to opposition from liberal groups over Lan’s role in reassigning an official critical of the Administration’s child separation policies.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recommended Ho for the Southern District of New York in June 2021. Ho was nominated for the court on September 30, 2021.
Other than a short stint at Fried Frank, Ho has spent his entire career as a voting rights attorney, including litigating some of the most significant voting rights cases in the past decade.
Notably, Ho has litigated against voting restrictions passed by state legislatures across the country. He successfully obtained an injunction against a North Carolina bill eliminating same-day voter registration. League of Women Voters of N.C. v. North Carolina, 769 F.3d 224 (4th Cir. 2014). Ho has also litigated against Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement for voters, successfully obtaining a district court injunction against the law, which was stayed by the Seventh Circuit. Frank v. Walker, 769 F.3d 494 (7th Cir. 2014).
Most notably, Ho managed to convince a federal judge to overturn a Kansas law requiring documentary proof of citizenship for voter registration. See Fish v. Kobach, 840 F.3d 710 (10th Cir. 2016. See also Fish v. Schwab, 957 F.3d 1105 (10th Cir. 2020). The lawsuit notably led to sanctions against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, after Judge Julie Robinson found that he failed to ensure compliance with her orders.
More recently, Ho represented Common Cause in fighting President Trump’s lawsuit seeking to overturn Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting plan implementation, a suit rejected by Judge Nicholas Ranjan. Trump v. Boockvar, 493 F. Supp. 3d 331 (W.D. Pa. 2020).
Outside of the voting rights context, Ho represented the NAACP as an amicus group in the litigation over California’s ban on same-sex marriage. See Perry v. Schwarzenegger, 630 F.3d 909 (9th Cir. 2011).
In his role as Director of the Voting Rights Project, Ho has written and spoken extensively on voting rights law and policy in the United States. His statements have generally criticized the Supreme Court for narrowing voting rights enforcement and permitting legislatures to restrict voting access. For example, after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which invalidated the Section 5 preclearance formula of the Voting Rights Act, Ho noted that the decision eliminated “a powerful tool to deter the adoption or prevent the implementation of discriminatory voting laws in those parts of the country where voting discrimination had proved stubbornly persistent.” Dale E. Ho, Voting Rights Litigation After Shelby County: Mechanics and Standards in Section 2 Vote Denial Claims, 17 N.Y.U. J. Legis. & Pub. Pol’y 675 (2014). He also described advocates’ efforts to use Section 2 to combat voter restrictions, discussing the challenges of such an approach. See Dale Ho, Building an Umbrella in a Rainstorm: The New Vote Denial Litigation Since Shelby County, 127 Yale L.J. 799 (February 8, 2018). Ho has also been critical of “formalism” in interpreting the Voting Rights Act (relying on bright-line rules rather than more flexible balancing tests), arguing that bright-line rules do not serve the stated goals of judicial efficiency and race neutrality. Dale Ho, Two Fs for Formalism: Interpreting Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in Light of Changing Demographics and Electoral Patterns, 50 Harv. L. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 403 (Summer 2015).
This is not to say that Ho’s writings always take a maximalist position on voting rights. In a 2013 article on majority-minority districting, Ho notes that “in places where racial polarization has declined substantially, critics of minority vote dilution doctrine have raised valid questions as to whether majority-minority districts remain necessary…” Dale Ho, Beyond the Red, Purple, and Blue: Essay: Minority Vote Dilution in the Age of Obama, 47 U. Rich. L. Rev. 1041, 1075 (March 2013). In the same article, Ho nonetheless notes that majority-minority districting is necessary in much of the country despite progress made elsewhere. Id.
In other matters, Ho appeared on NPR on behalf of the NAACP in 2012 to distinguish First Amendment precedent that protected NAACP members in the 1950s from the current push by conservative groups to shield their donors. Peter Overby, Conservatives Invoke NAACP Case in Fight for Secret Donors, NPR Weekend Edition, Dec. 30, 2012.
Given his prominence in the voting rights movement, as well as his youth, and the likelihood of his elevation to the appellate bench, it would not be surprising to see Ho attract strong conservative opposition, just as fellow voting rights attorney Myrna Perez did on her nomination to the Second Circuit. Nonetheless, Ho remains favored to overcome that opposition and be confirmed in the next few months.