Saturday, July 9, 2011
A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit ruled on Friday that a political candidate has standing to lodge a facial challenge against Congress's authority to reauthorize Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act--the preclearance requirement that has become a target in litigation since Congress reauthorized it in 2006.
The case, LaRoque v. Holder, grows out of a citizen referendum in Kinston, North Carolina, that changed city elections from partisan to nonpartisan. Kinston lies within a jurisdiction covered by Section 5 of the VRA, so the city council had to gain Justice Department preclearance before implementing the referendum. DOJ declined to preclear, concluding that "[r]emoving the partisan cue in municipal elections [would], in all likelihood, eleminate the single factor that allows black candidates to be elected to office." The city council declined to seek de novo review of the referendum by a three-judge district court, thereby effectively nullifying it.
Several Kinston residents, including John Nix, a resident who declared his candidacy for city council in the 2011 elections, sued, lodging a facial challenge against Congress's authority under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to reauthorize Section 5.
Nix, the subject of the court's standing analysis, is a registered Republican, but prefers to run in the referendum-approved nonpartisan election, because, he says, it'll make it cheaper and easier for him to run, and he's more likely to win. The district court dismissed for lack of standing.
The D.C. Circuit reversed. It ruled that Nix alleged sufficiently concrete and particularized injuries (that the partisan election will make it tougher for him to get on the ballot and less likely that he'll win), sufficient causation (because the city council's decision not to implement the referendum was the result of DOJ's enforcement of Section 5), and sufficient redressability (because a ruling that Section 5 exceeds congressional authority would allow the city council to implement the referendum).
The court also ruled that Nix had prudential standing, citing the Supreme Court's recent decision Bond v. United States and ruling that Nix isn't precluded from suing just because he "challenge[d] a law that he claims 'upset[s] the constitutional balance between the National Government and the States.'" Op. at 24.
The court remanded the case to the district court to consider the merits of Nix's claim--whether reauthorization of Section 5 exceeds congressional authority, an issue the Supreme Court dodged in its 2009 ruling, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder, but has remained an issue in litigation since.