Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Check it Out: Morley on Prophylactic Redistricting

Check out Prof. Michael Morley's new piece, Prophylactic Redistricting? Congress's Section 5 Power and the New Equal Protection Right to Vote, in the William & Mary Law Review.

Morley argues that traditional remedial features of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act are getting squeezed from two sides: (1) Boerne and reduced congressional authority to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments mean that the Court will likely give a narrower reading to Section 2 (focusing only on intentional discrimination); and (2) the Court's shift to a "pro-equality" (and away from a "pro-vote") approach to the right to vote mean that courts will likely say that any legislative expansions of the franchise have to be shared equally by all. Here's what to do about it:

Courts may apply section 2 more aggressively to defendant jurisdictions or officials that have a recent history of engaging in intentional racial discrimination concerning the right to vote. They should also be more willing to allow prophylactic applications of section 2 in circumstances where direct evidence of constitutional violations (that is, intentional discrimination) would be impracticable or impossible to uncover. Finally, remedies under section 2 should not be broader than necessary to achieve its important prophylactic purposes. Section 2 runs a risk: the more it deviates from the mandates of the Court's developing conception of equal protection, and does so in a race-conscious manner that almost invariably inures to the benefit of a particular political party, the greater skepticism it will trigger in the courts. It places courts in the difficult position of reshaping both the rules of elections and the shape of electoral districts to attempt to replicate what a fair electoral outcome in the absence of past and present society discrimination would look like. Such awesome power demands careful use.

August 1, 2018 in Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fundamental Rights, News, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Federal Judge Declines to Dismiss Challenges to Citizenship Question on 2020 Census

In an extensive and scholarly opinion in New York v. United States Department of Commerce consolidated with New York Immigration Coalition v. United States Department of Commerce, federal judge Jesse Furman has denied in part motions to dismiss and allowed the case to proceed.

Recall that the United States Commerce Department's announcement that the 2020 Decennial Census Questionnaire will include a citizenship question, which the census has not included since 1950, has provoked several challenges including the one filed in the Southern District of New York, New York v. United States Department of Commerce, raising constitutional objections on behalf of seventeen state plaintiffs, the District of Columbia, as well as six cities and the United States Conference of Mayors. The first count of the complaint is based on the "actual enumeration" requirement and avers that adding a citizenship question will "deter participation." The allegations in the complaint regarding the link between a citizenship demand and lower participation interestingly rely on the Census Bureau's own arguments and findings. The complaint alleges that consequences of lower participation is "an undercount" that will not reflect the accurate population of the plaintiffs, effecting their representation in the House of Representatives and the Electors.  Two additional counts are based on the Administration Procedure Act. 

The New York Immigration Coalition complaint has "five nongovernmental organizations" as plaintiffs, challenging the Secretary’s decision on the same grounds as the states' complaint but importantly on the additional ground of equal protection.

Judge Furman first found that the "government plaintiffs" and well as the "NGO plaintiffs" had standing and then rejected that the lawsuits were political questions barred from judicial review. As Judge Furman concluded:

the Court rejects Defendants’ attempts to insulate Secretary Ross’s decision to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 census from judicial review. Granted, courts must give proper deference to the Secretary, but that does not mean that they lack authority to entertain claims like those pressed here. To the contrary, courts have a critical role to play in reviewing the conduct of the political branches to ensure that the census is conducted in a manner consistent with the Constitution and applicable law.

However, Judge Furman concluded that the Plaintiffs' claims under the Enumeration Clause must be dismissed. For Judge Furman, the constitutional text's broad language combined with a historical practice that has allowed many demographic questions and once included citizenship questions leads to the result that the Secretary has power to include a citizenship query. But as Judge Furman repeatedly emphasized, this does not end the issue. For example, as Judge Furman wrote:

to say that the Secretary has authority under the Enumeration Clauseto ask about citizenship on the census is not to say that the particular exercise of that authority here was constitutional or lawful. The Secretary cannot exercise his authority in a manner that would violate individual constitutional rights, such as the right to equal protection of the laws. [citations omitted]. Nor, under the APA, may he exercise his authority in a manner that would be “arbitrary” and “capricious.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A);[citation omitted]. Plaintiffs here make both kinds of claims, and the Court’s holding that the Secretary’s decision was consonant with the Enumeration Clause does not resolve those claims.

In his discussion of the equal protection claim (under the Fifth Amendment's inclusion of equal protection), Judge Furman relegated the animus argument to a footnote stating that it need not be discussed because he found that there was a sufficient claim for a denial of equal protection on the basis of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997).  Judge Furman concluded that the allegations of discriminatory effect — that inclusion of the citizenship question for all respondents will bear, in the form of diminished political representation and reduced federal funding, more heavily on “Latinos, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, and other immigrant communities of color” because the non-response rate is likely to be higher in such communities — were sufficient.

As to the required intent, Judge Furman listed the Arlington Heights factors:

 (1) “[t]he historical background of the decision . . . particularly if it reveals a series of official actions taken for invidious purposes”; (2) “[t]he specific sequence of events leading up the challenged decision”; (3) “[d]epartures from the normal procedural sequence”; (4) “[s]ubstantive departures . . . , particularly if the factors usually considered important by the decisionmaker strongly favor a decision contrary to the one reached”; and (5) “[t]he legislative or administrative history . . . especially where there are contemporary statements by members of the decisionmaking body, minutes of its meetings, or reports.”

and then discussed each one, focusing on departures from normal procedures (which "include overruling career staff who strongly objected to including the citizenship question, failing to extensively test reintroduction of the question, and ignoring the recommendation of the Census Bureau’s advisory committee") and specific statements, including statements of the President. Judge Furman rejected the federal goverment's argument that consideration of such statements was improper after Trump v. Hawaii, writing that the government's invocation of the case "falls somewhere between facile and frivolous," especially given its practice of truncated quotation. Instead, Judge Furman found 

There is nothing in the Court’s opinion [in Trump v. Hawaii] to indicate that its deferential review applies outside of the “national security and foreign affairs context,”  let alone that the Court meant to unsettle decades of equal protection jurisprudence regarding the types of evidence a court may look to in determining a government actor’s intent. In fact, even with its “circumscribed judicial inquiry,” the Hawaii Court itself considered “extrinsic evidence” — namely, President Trump’s own statements.  If anything, therefore, Hawaii cuts against Defendants’ arguments rather than in their favor.

[citations omitted].

Judge Furman thus directed the parties to proceed with discovery, inform the court whether the cases should be consolidated, and whether a trial or summary judgment would be more appropriate.

  Schedule-closeup-l

July 26, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Federal Judge Enjoins Florida's Ban on Early Voting at College Facilities

In his opinion in League of Women Voters v. Detzner, Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida found that the Florida Secretary of State's Opinion barring early voting on any university or college campus most likely violates the First, Fourteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments, and issued a preliminary injunction.

The issue involves an interpretation of the Florida's Division of Elections, under the Secretary of State, that Florida Statute §101.657(1)(a), passed in 2013, that permits supervisors of elections to “designate any city hall, permanent public library facility, fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center as early voting sites.”  A question arose as to whether a particular hall on the University of Florida campus qualified and in response the state official issued an Opinion banning all university and college facilities for use in early voting.

University-of-florida-editorial

Judge Walker found that the state's interpretation of the early voting statute was constitutionally faulty. While early voting is not required and may be classified as a convenience, Judge Walker quoted Bush v. Gore (2000) — “Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another" — to reason that constitutional problems emerge  "when conveniences are available for some people and affirmatively blocked for others."  Judge Walker began the opinion by noting that the number of people effected was substantial: more than 1.1 million "young men and women were enrolled in institutions of higher learning" in Florida in 2016, nearly 830,000 in public institutions, as well as there being another 107,000 staff members at the public institutions. To stress the number of people involved, Judge Walker wrote:

Put another way, the number of people who live and work on Florida’s public college and university campuses is greater than the population of Jacksonville, Florida—or the populations of North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.

Judge Walker first applied the the Anderson-Burdick  balancing test  for less than "severe restrictions." (Recall in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) the Court upheld Hawai'i 's ban on write-in voting).  Judge Walker stated that even assuming the state's opinion could be construed as a reasonable nondiscriminatory restriction, it imposed significant burdens on the plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to vote, categorically prohibiting the use of on-campus early voting and thus "lopsidedly impacts Florida's youngest voters," a class of voters "particularly invested in early voting" with approximately 43 percent of Florida's college students voting early in 2016.  These burdens were not justified by the state's interests — which the Judge stated "one must squint hard to identify"— in following state law, preventing parking issues, and avoiding on-campus disruption.

As to the Twenty-Sixth Amendment issue, Judge Walker found that while there was a "dearth of guidance on what test applies" when the claimed infringement is not a facial denial of voting for any citizen 18 years or older, the standard of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997) was generally accepted. Judge Walker found that the state's approach revealed a stark pattern of discrimination unexplainable on grounds other than age. Judge Walker also compared the state's policy to earlier seemingly neutral attempts to effect African-American voters, noting that

This Court does not lightly compare contemporary laws and policies to more shameful eras of American history. But addressing intentional discrimination does not require kid gloves.

Having found that there was a likelihood that plaintiffs would prevail on the merits, Judge Walker also found the other requirements for a preliminary injunction were met. The judge instructed the Defendant Secretary of State to issue a directive to supervisors of elections that they retain discretion to implement the Florida statute including any sites that may be on university or college campuses.

July 25, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Federal Judge Dismisses Complaint Seeking Access to Literacy by School Children

In his opinion in Gary B. v. Snyder, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Stephen Murphy dismissed a complaint alleging constitutional violations in the public schools in Detroit.

After finding the plaintiff students had standing and that the complaint against Governor Snyder and other officials was not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, Judge Snyder dismissed the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause claims.

On the Due Process Clause claim, Judge Snyder noted that the constitutional right at issue is framed as "access to literacy" which "speaks to an opportunity" rather than simply literacy which is an "outcome of education." Using this definition, Judge Snyder distinguished the complaint from landmark cases such as San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), rejecting "education" as a fundamental right. Nevertheless, applying the "standard" test to determine a fundamental right from Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) — "fundamental rights are only those 'objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed'"— even through the lens of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Judge Snyder reasoned that fundamental rights are generally only "negative rights."

Conceivably, a case like this one could be argued on either positive- or negative- right theories. As a positive right, access to literacy (i.e., a minimally adequate education) is so important that the state is compelled to provide it. As a negative right, access to literacy is so important that the state may not hinder Plaintiffs' attempts to secure it.  ***

But a violation of negative rights is not what the Complaint truly seems to argue. The Complaint explains, in great detail, that the instruction and resources in Plaintiffs' schools are inadequate.

  256px-Paul_Constant_Soyer_-_Little_Girl_Reading_-_Walters_371621Judge Snyder reasoned that the Supreme Court's understanding of a "fundamental right," requires finding that neither liberty nor justice would exist absent state-provided literacy access, which would be "difficult to square with the fact that '[t]here was no federal or state-run school system anywhere in the United States as late as 1830.'" Thus, for Judge Snyder, the "ordered liberty" prong is tantamount to historical roots:

School districts at the time of the Constitution's ratification were formed 'when a group of farms came together and decided to construct a public building for schooling, where their children could gather and be taught reading, writing, and moral codes of instruction.' [citation omitted]  The history evinces a deep American commitment to education, but runs counter to the notion that ordered society demands that a state provide one.

Thus, he concluded:

The conditions and outcomes of Plaintiffs' schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury—and so does society. But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy? Based on the foregoing analysis, the answer to the question is no.

Judge Murphy concluded that the Equal Protection Clause claim was similarly not founded. The court repeats that there is no fundamental right and further finds that there is no racial classification because there to be a "relevant comparator school" requires not only that the school in question have a different racial composition that the 97% African-American schools in Detroit but also that the school "experienced relevant state interventions" like the schools in Detroit. Thus, rational basis scrutiny applies at its most deferential — whether "there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification" — and the plaintiffs did not plead "specific decisions Defendants made concerning Plaintiffs' schools that could have been made differently" and were thus irrational.

The dismissal of the complaint makes it ripe for appeal.

[image: Paul-Constant Soyer, Little Girl Reading (1864) via]

 

July 2, 2018 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Check it Out: Stern on Kennedy, Gerrymandering, and Redistricting Commissions

Check out Mark Joseph Stern's piece in Slate, Partisan Gerrymandering Is About to Get Much Worse. Stern writes that Justice Kennedy's retirement will mean more than just that the Court likely won't hear partisan gerrymandering challenges; it likely will reverse its OK of independent and other kinds of redistricting commissions:

If voters approve the independent redistricting commission [in Michigan's ballot initiative], Republican state legislators are almost certain to challenge it in court. And if their lawsuit reaches the Supreme Court, Roberts will have the opportunity to turn his 2015 dissent [in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission] into law. In the process, he could strike down not only Arizona's commission, but also California's, which similarly removes legislators from the business of redistricting.

Depending on how broadly the court rules, it could put other progressive electoral reforms on the chopping block as well. If the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures near-absolute control over redistricting, then bipartisan commissions could also be doomed.

July 1, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

District Court Strikes Kansas's Documentary Proof of Citizenship Requirment to Vote

Judge Julie A. Robinson (D. Kansas) ruled yesterday that Kansas's requirement that motor-voter applicants provide proof of citizenship violated the National Voter Registration Act and the constitutional right to vote. In addition, Judge Robinson took Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to task for his conduct over the course of the case, and imposed a remarkable sanction against him.

The ruling should end Kansas's documentary-proof-of-citizenship law, but we'll likely see an appeal (even if almost certainly futile, given the record).

The case tests Kansas's law that motor-voters show proof of citizenship when registering to vote against the NVRA's requirement that states automatically register voters when they apply for a driver's license--and its prohibition on states requiring more information than "necessary to . . . enable State election officials to assess the eligibility of that applicant and to administer voter registration and other parts of the election process." Judge Robinson previously issued a temporary injunction against Kansas's law, upheld by the Tenth Circuit.

As to NVRA preemption, the court applied the Tenth Circuit's rule on NVRA preemption. That rule says that the attestation requirement in Section 5 presumptively satisfies the minimum-information requirement for motor-voter registration. In order to rebut the presumption, the defendant has to show that "they cannot enforce their voter qualifications because a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered using the Federal Form" in order to adopt more strenuous information requirements.

The court said that Kobach simply didn't prove that a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered using the Federal Form, and that there wasn't another, less burdensome way to enforce the state's citizenship requirement:

Defendant was given the opportunity to retain experts and marshal evidence to meet his burden of demonstrating that "a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered to vote under the attestation requirement" in order to rebut the presumption that attestation meets the minimum-information requirement of Section 5 and that nothing less than DPOC is sufficient to meet his eligibility-assessment and registration duties under the NVRA. As described below, the Court finds that on the trial record Defendant has failed to make a sufficient showing on the first inquiry. Moreover, even if Defendant could demonstrate a substantial number of noncitizen registrations, he has not demonstrated that nothing less than the DPOC law is sufficient to enforce the State's citizenship eligibility requirement.

As to the right to vote, Judge Robinson weighed DPOC's benefits and burdens, distinguished the balance in Crawford v. Marion County, and ruled that DPOC violated the right to vote. "Instead, the DPOC law disproportionately impacts duly qualified registration applicants, while only nominally preventing noncitizen voter registration."

Finally, Judge Robinson found that Kobach engaged in a repeated "pattern and practice . . . of flaunting disclosure and discovery rules that are designed to prevent prejudice and surprise at trial." "[G]iven the repeated instances involved, and the fact that Defendant resisted the Court's rulings by continuing to try to introduce such evidence after exclusion, the Court finds that further sanctions are appropriate . . . ." The court ordered Kobach to attend six additional CLE hours (over and above the state's regular requirements), pertaining to federal or Kansas civil rules of procedure or evidence.

June 19, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Preemption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 18, 2018

SCOTUS Dodges Partisan Gerrymandering Challenges in Gill and Benisek

In its opinion in Gill v. Whitford involving a challenge to Wisconsin's alleged partisan gerrymandering the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with a concurring opinion by Justice Kagan (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor), found that the plaintiffs did not prove sufficient Article III standing to sustain the relief granted in the divided decision by the three judge court.  Additionally, in a per curiam opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, involving a challenge to alleged political gerrymandering in Maryland, the Court declined to disturb the three judge court's decision not to grant to a preliminary injunction.

Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in Gill admits that

Over the past five decades this Court has been repeat­edly asked to decide what judicially enforceable limits, if any, the Constitution sets on the gerrymandering of voters along partisan lines. Our previous attempts at an answer have left few clear landmarks for addressing the question.

The  Chief Justice's Gill opinion does little, if anything, to remedy this lack of "landmarks" in the doctrine. However, the Chief Justice's opinion continues that the Court's "efforts to sort through those considerations have generated conflict­ing views both of how to conceive of the injury arising from partisan gerrymandering and of the appropriate role for the Federal Judiciary in remedying that injury" and it is this set of "conflicting views" that the Chief Justice's opinion sets out to resolve. The 1024px-The_Gerry-Mander_Editresolution seems simple: to the extent that plaintiffs' "alleged harm is the dilution of their votes" in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, "that injury is district specific." In sum, the injury must be an individual one that arises from an individual's vote being diluted by the voter's placement in a "cracked" or "packed" district.  The Chief Justice's opinion concludes that while the individual plaintiffs had "pleaded a particularized burden along such lines," they failed to prove those facts at trial.

Yet this simplicity is less straightforward when combined with Justice Kagan's concurring opinion, which correctly notes that in addition to the Equal Protection Clause claim of vote dilution, "at some points in this litigation, the plaintiffs complained of a different injury — an infringement of their First Amendment right of association." [Indeed, the opinion for the three judge court seems to combine the equal protection and First Amendment claims.] On the First Amendment claim, Kagan writes:

when the harm alleged is not district specific, the proof needed for standing should not be district specific either. And the associational injury flowing from a statewide partisan gerrymander, whether alleged by a party member or the party itself, has nothing to do with the packing or cracking of any single district’s lines. The complaint in such a case is instead that the gerrymander has burdened the ability of like-minded people across the State to affiliate in a political party and carry out that organization’s activities and objects. Because a plaintiff can have that complaint without living in a packed or cracked district, she need not show what the Court demands today for a vote dilution claim. Or said otherwise: Because on this alternative theory, the valued association and the injury to it are statewide, so too is the relevant standing requirement.

Moreover, even on the equal protection vote dilution claim, Kagan's opinion instructs that the Court's determination of remand rather than dismissal means that

the plaintiffs—both the four who initially made those assertions and any others (current or newly joined)—now can introduce evidence that their individual districts were packed or cracked. And if the plaintiffs’ more general charges have a basis in fact, that evidence may well be at hand. Recall that the plaintiffs here al­leged—and the District Court found —that a unified Republican government set out to ensure that Republicans would control as many State Assembly seats as possible over a decade (five consecutive election cycles). To that end, the gov­ernment allegedly packed and cracked Democrats throughout the State, not just in a particular district (see, e.g., Benisek v. Lamone) or region. Assuming that is true, the plaintiffs should have a mass of packing and cracking proof, which they can now also present in district-by-district form to support their standing. In other words, a plaintiff residing in each affected district can show, through an alternative map or other evidence, that packing or cracking indeed occurred there.

 [emphasis added].  The Court remanded and declined to "direct dismissal" given that this "is not the usual case" because the it "concerns an unsettled kind of claim," the "contours and justiciability of which are unresolved." Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, wrote separately to disagree with the remand, arguing there is "nothing unusual" about the case and that the matter should be dismissed.

In the five page per curiam opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, the Court declined to disturb the three judge court's denial of a motion for preliminary injunction. Seemingly without irony, the Court noted that one rationale for the three judge court's denial of a preliminary injunction was its concern about assessing the merits of the partisan gerrymandering claim and its prediction it would be "better equipped to make that legal determination and to chart a wise course" after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Gill. However, the per curiam opinion of the Court also reasoned that even if the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits, the  other factors in a preliminary injunction decision including the balance of equities and the public interest "tilted against" the issuance of a preliminary injunction.

In sum, the decisions in Gill and Benisek leave the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering as unsettled as before.

[image: "the gerrymander" via]

 

June 18, 2018 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Maine Votes With, and For, Ranked Choice Voting

Maine became the first state this week to use ranked-choice-voting in a state-wide election. In addition to electing candidates in the primaries, Maine voters also voted in favor of a referendum favoring ranked-choice.

It may seem odd that voters both used ranked-choice and voted for it in the same election. (Wouldn't a vote for it usually precede a vote using it?) Here's why: The referendum was designed to undo legislation that postponed and repealed ranked-choice voting unless a constitutional amendment (allowing it) passed before December 1, 2021. The legislation, in turn, was enacted by legislative opponents of ranked-choice, who argued, among other things, that ranked-choice violated the state constitution.

That argument didn't come out of the blue. The state supreme court issued a non-binding advisory opinion earlier this year concluding that ranked-choice did, indeed, violate the state constitution. In short, the court said ranked-choice, with its multiple-rounds that might result in a candidate with a first-round plurality from losing the election (when there are three or more candidates), violated the state constitutional provisions that say that the winning candidate in an election is the person who receives a "plurality" of the vote. The court explained:

The Act, in contrast, provides for the tabulation of votes in rounds. Thus, the Act prevents the recognition of the winning candidate when the first plurality is identified. According to the terms of the Constitution, a candidate who receives a plurality of the votes would be declared the winner in that election. The Act, in contrast, would not declare the plurality candidate the winner of the election, but would require continued tabulation until a majority is achieved or all votes are exhausted. Accordingly, the Act is not simply another method of carrying out the Constitution's requirement of a plurality. In essence, the Act is inapplicable if there are only two candidates, and it is in direct conflict with the Constitution if there are more than two candidates.

The discrepancy between the Act and the Constitution is easily illustrated by the simplest of scenarios. If, after one round of counting, a candidate obtained a plurality of the votes but not a majority, that candidate would be declared the winner according to the Maine Constitution as it currently exists. According to the Act, however, that same candidate would not then be declared the winner.

Instead, the candidate, though already having obtained a plurality of the votes, would be subject to additional rounds of counting in which second, third, and fourth choices are accounted for and the lowest vote-garnering candidates are successively eliminated. Once those additional rounds are completed, a different candidate may be declared the winner--not because that second candidate obtained a plurality of the votes (which the first candidate had already obtained), but because that candidate obtained a majority of the votes after eliminating the other candidates by taking into account the second, third, and fourth place preferences, or because the ballots have been exhausted. In this way, the Act prevents the candidate obtaining a "plurality" from being named the winner unless and until multiple rounds of vote-counting have occurred.

(NB: The ruling is as interesting, or more, for its analysis of the court's power to issue advisory opinions in the context of Maine constitutional separation of powers.)

The ruling is merely advisory, however, and not binding. So there's no definitive say-so as to the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in the state. Because the referendum removes the legislative barrier to ranked-choice in the absence of a constitutional amendment by December 2021, unless there's an actual and adversarial court case challenging ranked choice (and winning), we'll see it again in the next election, constitutional amendment or not.

June 16, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

SCOTUS Rules Minnesota's Restriction on Voters' Political Apparel Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the Court held that a provision of a Minnesota law regulating voters' political attire violates the First Amendment. Recall from our preview that  Minn. Stat. §211B.11, entitled "Soliciting near polling places," includes among its petty misdemeanor violations a prohibition of political attire: "A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day." 

The Court's majority opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts, finds that the "polling place" on election day constitutes a nonpublic forum under the First Amendment; it is "government- controlled property set aside for the sole purpose of voting" and is a "special enclave, subject to greater restriction." The question as phrased by the Court was therefore whether "Minnesota’s ban on political apparel is 'reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum': voting."  As in the oral argument, the Court considered the relevance of Burson v. Freeman (1992), in which the Court upheld a Tennessee statute which prohibited the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place.

Analogizing to Burson, the Court upheld Minnesota's objective in prohibiting voters from wearing particular kinds of expressive apparel or accessories while inside the polling place.

[W]e see no basis for rejecting Minnesota’s determination that some forms of advocacy should be excluded from the polling place, to set it aside as “an island of calm in which voters can peacefully contemplate their choices.” Brief for Respondents 43. Casting a vote is a weighty civic act, akin to a jury’s return of a verdict, or a representative’s vote on a piece of legislation. It is a time for choosing, not campaigning. The State may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect that distinction.

However, the Court found that the Minnesota statute failed to satisfy the reasonable standard in the means chosen to achieve its goal: "the unmoored use of the term 'political' in the Minnesota law, combined with haphazard interpretations the State has provided in official guidance and representations to this Court, cause Minnesota’s restriction to fail even this forgiving test." The Court found "political" far too broad (citing dictionary definitions) and likewise found that "issue oriented material" was also too broad (" A rule whose fair enforcement requires an election judge to maintain a mental index of the platforms and positions of every candidate and party on the ballot is not reason- able. Candidates for statewide and federal office and major political parties can be expected to take positions on a wide array of subjects of local and national import.") 

However, the Court gestured toward acceptable means chosen:

That is not to say that Minnesota has set upon an impossible task. Other States have laws proscribing displays (including apparel) in more lucid terms. See, e.g., Cal. Elec. Code Ann. §319.5 (West Cum. Supp. 2018) (prohibiting “the visible display . . . of information that advocates for or against any candidate or measure,” including the “display of a candidate’s name, likeness, or logo,” the “display of a ballot measure’s number, title, subject, or logo,” and “[b]uttons, hats,” or “shirts” containing such information); Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §61.010(a) (West 2010) (prohibiting the wearing of “a badge, insignia, emblem, or other similar communicative device relating to a candidate, measure, or political party appearing on the ballot, or to the conduct of the election”). We do not suggest that such provisions set the outer limit of what a State may proscribe, and do not pass on the constitutionality of laws that are not before us. But we do hold that if a State wishes to set its polling places apart as areas free of partisan discord, it must employ a more discernible approach.

The appendix lists thirty-four states prohibiting accessories or apparel in the polling place.

Dissenting, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Breyer, would have certified the issue of the interpretation of the statute to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Court, in footnote 7, explained its decision not to certify, including that the request came "late in the day," but Sotomayor argued that "certification is not an argument subject to forfeiture by the parties" and is instead a matter of comity. Moreover, she contended that having an interpretation of the statute, including the term "political" (which she noted the Court had "little difficulty discerning its meaning in the context of [other] statutes subject to First Amendment challenges, citing cases), would "obviate the hypothetical line-drawing problems that form the basis of the Court’s decision today."

Thus, the import of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky is that states can prohibit certain expressive apparel and accessories at the polling place on election day, but the courts must find the statutory definitions sufficiently defined as to be "reasonable." 

US_presidential_election_badges

June 14, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Maine to use Ranked Choice Voting in Tuesday's Primaries

Maine will become the first state to use ranked-choice voting in a state-wide election in its Tuesday primaries. Maine's Secretary of State has a resource page here, including sample ballots, FAQs, and even an entertaining video explaining how it'll work. Check it out!

The move to ranked-choice voting in the state isn't uncontroversial, as reported earlier this spring in The Atlantic. But results from other jurisdictions within the U.S., and from other countries (that have much richer experiences using ranked-choice or some form of instant-run-off voting), are promising.

June 10, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Texas Redistricting Case Abbott v. Perez

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Abbott v. Perez, regarding the constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause and the validity under the Voting Rights Act of the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2013.  Recall that in an extensive opinion in August 2017,  the three judge court made detailed findings, one of which was that the Texas legislature engaged on intentional racial discrimination violating the Fourteenth Amendment.

Much of the argument centered on the acts of the Texas legislature in 2013 adopting maps which had previously been found invalid because of racial discrimination. Arguing for Texas, Scott Keller, the Texas Solicitor General, argued that the Texas legislature was entitled to a presumption of good faith and that the "taint" did not carry forward, and Edwin Kneedler, from the United States Solicitor General's Office, likewise stressed that the "taint" should not carry forward. Arguing for various challengers to the redistricting, Max Hicks and Allison Riggs, both stressed the standard of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997), contending that the taint does not end, and stressing the extensive findings by the three judge court.

The question of how long a discriminatory intent taint persists sometimes seemed as if it was a preview of the next oral argument, that in Hawai'i v. Trump.

Map_of_Texas_1718Yet the oral arguments in Abbott v. Perez were also preoccupied with the "jurisdictional" question; Chief Justice Roberts at several points directed the parties to move to the merits.  This jurisdictional question involves the status of the three judge court order and whether it is actually a reviewable order. Recall that the order was not a preliminary injunction, but instead the court directed the Texas Attorney General to provide a "written advisory within three business days stating whether the Legislature intends to take up redistricting in an effort to cure these violations and, if so, when the matter will be considered." Justice Breyer suggested that the operable "piece of paper" in the case was not a judgment or preliminary injunction, but only a direction to come to court.

While jurisdictional issues are always important to the Court, when the jurisdiction involves appeals as of right from three judge court decisions, the stakes are higher in terms of workload. As Justice Sotomayor asked, what distinguishes this case from the  "millions of others - - - not millions, I'm exaggerating greatly - - - the hundreds of these . . . ." 

 

 

April 24, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

More Challenges to Citizenship Question on Census

The United States Commerce Department's announcement that the 2020 Decennial Census Questionnaire will include a citizenship question, which the census has not included since 1950, continues to provoke litigation. Recall that soon after the late March announcement, California v. Ross challenged the constitutionality of the change as violating the Constitution's requirement of  “actual Enumeration” of all people in each state every ten years for the sole purpose of apportioning representatives among the states. U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and amend. XIV, § 2.

An additional complaint filed in the Southern District of New York, New York v. United States Department of Commerce, raises the same constitutional objection on behalf of seventeen state plaintiffs, the District of Columbia, as well as six cities and the United States Conference of Mayors. The first count of the complaint is based on the "actual enumeration" requirement and avers that adding a citizenship question will "deter participation." The allegations in the complaint regarding the link between a citizenship demand and lower participation interestingly rely on the Census Bureau's own arguments and findings. The complaint alleges that consequences of lower participation is "an undercount" that will not reflect the accurate population of the plaintiffs, effecting their representation in the House of Representatives and the Electors.  Two additional counts are based on the Administration Procedure Act, with the second count regarding the government's decision as contrary to the constitution and law including arguments regarding the "actual enumeration" requirement.

Additionally, the NAACP has filed a complaint in the District of Maryland, NAACP v. Bureau of the Census, with one count based on the "actual enumeration" requirement. The NAACP complaint stresses the risks of an undercount of racial and ethnic minorities, and opens thusly:

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution imposes one of the few affirmative obligations on the federal government: to conduct an “actual Enumeration” of all residents every ten years. Despite this duty, the United States has undercounted people of color since the nation’s founding, starting with the decision to treat African American slaves as only three-fifths of a person. The Three-Fifths Clause appeared in the same constitutional provision that mandates a decennial census.

 

1475006244533[image via]

 

 

April 4, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Interpretation, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Check it Out: Times Editorial on MLK, Race and Voting Rights at the Supreme Court

Check out this NYT editorial on MLK, race and voting rights at the Supreme Court. Here's what it says on Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion in Shelby County striking the coverage formula for Section 5 preclearance, because "things have changed dramatically":

In one sense, he was right: Racial discrimination in voting is no longer as blatant or systemic as it was in 1965. But the idea that the American fixation on race and power had magically evaporated in just a few decades was, at best, striking naive. It was also disproved within hours of the court's ruling, when Republican lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina, both states that had been covered by the Voting Rights Act, rammed through discriminatory new voting laws that they had been gunning to pass for years, including some that had been blocked under the act.

April 2, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Challenge to Maryland's Partisan Gerrymandering

In oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamone, the United States Supreme Court again confronted the the constitutionality of gerrymandering on the basis of political party. Recall that the Court heard arguments earlier in this Term in Gill v. Whitford involving the state of Wisconsin and centering on the Equal Protection Clause challenge. In Benisek, involving Maryland, recall that a divided three judge court denied the motion for preliminary injunction, but with Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer arguing that the redistricting of Maryland's Sixth District diluted the votes of Republicans in violation of the First Amendment.

The Benisek argument before the Supreme Court did center the First Amendment, but equal protection doctrine did surface in the context of comparing racial gerrymandering which is analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause. Arguing for Maryland, Steve Sullivan sought to distinguish the two doctrines, with Justice Kagan responding:

JUSTICE KAGAN:  But we would be looking at the same things.  We would be looking at the same kind of direct evidence, the same kind of statements.  We would be looking at the same circumstantial evidence that has to do with where the lines were drawn and how they were drawn.  So it's -- it's all the same kind of evidence, isn't it?

Sullivan sought to distinguish the two doctrines and stated that while there may be similar types of evidence, the Court had not applied "the First Amendment retaliation rubric to that analysis," as the challengers suggested. However, Chief Justice Roberts offered another comparison:

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, one difference between -- one difference between the race and partisanship is that we've always recognized that a certain degree of partisanship is acceptable.  We've never recognized that a certain degree of racial discrimination is acceptable.

2048px-Maryland_regions_map
The earliest moments of the oral argument offered a possible procedural escape hatch. The three judge court had denied the preliminary injunction and the possibility that any remedy could occur before the 2018 election seemed unlikely.  Moreover, the Justices questioned Michael Kimberly, attorney for the plaintiffs-challengers, regarding the lateness of the challenge, with Chief Justice Roberts asking about the elections that have been held in 2012, 2014, and 2016 before the challenge - - - relevant to the preliminary injunction factor of irreparable harm.

Justice Breyer offered a strategy for determining whether there are manageable standards and if so, what the standard should be.  (Recall that Justice Breyer outlined a several-step possible standard in the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford).  Justice Breyer noted that there are three cases - - - Wisconsin (Gill v. Whitford); Maryland (Benisek); and "the one we are holding, I think, is North Carolina" - - - with different variations. He began by asking the attorney for the challengers what he thought of reargument for the three cases:

JUSTICE BREYER:  * * * * What would you think of taking the three cases and setting them for reargument on the question of standard and there we'd have all three variations in front of us and we would enable people who have an interest in this subject generally to file briefs, and we'd see them all together and they could attack each other's standards or they could support each other's standards or they could attack any standard?  But there we'd have right in front of us the possibilities as -- as -- as thought through by lawyers and others who have an interest in this subject.

****
Winslow_Homer_-_Blackboard_(1877)I raise it because I want to think if there's some harm in doing that that I haven't thought of.  Is there some reason - would it be harmful to somebody? Because I do see an advantage.  You could have a blackboard and have everyone's
 theory on it, and then you'd have the pros and cons and then you'd be able to look at them all and then you'd be able see perhaps different ones for different variations and, you know, that's -- maybe there are different parts of gerrymandering that rises in different circumstances, dah-dah-dah. You see the point.

Later, in a colloquy with the attorney for Maryland, Justice Breyer again surfaced his proposal:

That's why I was thinking you've got to get all these standards lined up together, you know, and you have to have people criticizing each one back and forth and see if any of them really will work or some work in some cases and some work in other cases and it depends on the type you have.I -- I mean, that isn't squarely addressed by the lawyers because they're focused on their one case, et cetera.

Will there be a reargument?  It's difficult to tell.  But if there is, one might expect more than one brief that outlines the possible standards, with their advantages, disadvantages, and possible results in different cases, suitable for a "blackboard."

[image: Winslow Homer, Blackboard, 1877, via

March 28, 2018 in Association, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Census and Citizens: California Challenges Citizenship Question

The Commerce Department has announced that the 2020 Decennial Census Questionnaire will include a citizenship question, which the census has not included since 1950. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the change of policy in a letter which states the change is at the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in order to gather data regarding the "citizenship voting age population" (CVAP) to determine violations of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

The first count of the complaint  in California v. Ross alleges a constitutional violation:

  1. The Constitution requires the “actual Enumeration” of all people in each state every ten years for the sole purpose of apportioning representatives among the states. U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and amend. XIV, § 2.
  1. By including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census, Defendants are in violation of the “actual Enumeration” clause of the Constitution. Because the question will diminish the response rates of non-citizens and their citizen relatives, California, which has the largest immigrant population in the country, will be disproportionately affected by the census undercount. Inclusion of the question thus directly interferes with Defendants’ fulfillment of their constitutional responsibility, as delegated by Congress, to conduct an “actual Enumeration” of the U.S. population.
  1. This Violation harms the State of California and its residents, given that the State is entitled under the Constitution to a proportionate share of congressional representatives based on its total population.

1940-the-census-takerIn support of diminished response rates and the resultant undercount, the complaint includes in its allegations statements from the letter of Secretary Ross (as well as attaching the letter) in which Ross states that he

"carefully considered the argument that the reinstatement of the citizenship question on the decennial census would depress response rate. Because a lower response rate would lead to increased non—response follow—up costs and less accurate responses,this factor was an important consideration in the decision-making process. I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate."

In other words, a lower response rate is acceptable. Although the Ross letter continues that "limited empirical evidence exists about whether adding a citizenship question would decrease response rates materially."  Exhibit 2 to the Complaint is a Memorandum from the Center for Survey Measurement (CSM), a division within the Census Bureau, which raised concerns in September 2017 regarding response rates in current conditions even before the citizenship question would be added.

The Constitution Accountability Center's David Gans has a rather extensive memo posted last week, The Cornerstone of Our Democracy: The Census Clause and the Constitutional Obligation to Count All Persons, which uses originalist and practical rationales to argue that a citizenship question on the census is unconstitutional.

[image: Norman Rockwell, The Census Taker]

 

 

 

March 27, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Executive Authority, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sixth Circuit Upholds State Single-Subject Ballot-Initiative Rule Against First Amendment Challenge

The Sixth Circuit ruled last week that Ohio's single-subject rule for ballot initiatives doesn't violate the First Amendment. The ruling upholds a state Ballot Board order requiring the plaintiffs to split their initiative--which includes one question on term limits for state supreme court justices and another to apply all laws "that apply to the people" of the state "equally to the members and employees of the General Assembly"--into two.

The case, Committee to Impose Term Limits v. Ohio Ballot Board, arose when the state Ballot Board rejected the plaintiffs' request to include a ballot question with two parts--one to impose term limits on Ohio supreme court justices, and the other to apply laws equally to members of the General Assembly. The Board ruled that state single-subject rule for ballot initiatives required the plaintiffs to split the questions. The plaintiffs sued, arguing that the Board's ruling violated the First Amendment.

The Sixth Circuit disagreed. The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the single-subject rule was a content-based restriction on speech and instead applied the Anderson-Burdick balancing test for "minimally burdensome and nondiscriminatory regulations." Under the balancing test, the court said that the single-subject rule amounted to only a minimal burden on the plaintiffs, but that it was justified by multiple state interests (avoiding confusion at the ballot box, promoting informed decision-making, preventing logrolling).

The ruling aligns with every other circuit that addressed the question post-Buckley v. Valeo.

March 26, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument in Minnesota Voters Alliance on Election Attire Ban

The Court heard oral argument in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, a First Amendment challenge to Minn. Stat. §211B.11, entitled "Soliciting near polling places," and includes among its petty misdemeanor violations a prohibition of political attire: "A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day."  The argument tracked many of the issues in our preview here.

Important to the argument was the relevance of Burson v. Freeman (1992), in which the Court upheld a Tennessee statute which prohibited the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place. Early in the argument, Justice Sotomayor asked J. David Breemer, counsel for the petitioners, whether he was asking the Court to overrule Burson. Breemer distinguished Burson as "active campaigning" speech while the Minnesota statute governing attire and buttons was directed at "passive speech," but this did not seem satisfactory to the Justices. 

E362d3-20101101-pleaseidmeThe slippery slope inherent in overbreadth challenges was traversed multiple times. How could the lines be drawn? Several Justices at different points pressed counsel for Minnesota Voters Alliance on whether the statute would be constitutional if narrowed to "electoral speech" (vote for candidate X), but while counsel eventually agreed this might be constitutional, Justice Sotomayor then asked about ballot measure issues. During Daniel Rogan's argument on behalf of the State of Minnesota, Justice Alito pressed with any number of examples after stating that political connotations are in the "eye of the beholder": rainbow flags, Parkland Strong, the text of the Second Amendment, the text of the First Amendment, and "I miss Bill." And what about the very notion of entitlement to vote itself? In Breemer's rebuttal, Justice Sotomayor returned to some of the facts that had prompted the First Amendment challenge:

Let's not forget who these people were and what they were wearing, "Please ID me," which for some people was a highly charged political message, which was found, on remand, was intended to intimidate people to leave the polling booth . . . .

For Alito, the focus was not on voters who may be intimidated but on the humiliation of a voter who might be forced to cover up a political shirt with "a bathrobe."

As for the government interests supporting the statute, the question of dignity and decorum were paramount, inviting the comparison to the courtroom, which Justice Kagan raised. Although Breemer stated there was no constitutional right to vote free from being bothered, C.J. Roberts asked why a state could not make a determination that there should be such a policy.

The on-the-ground enforcement of the statute, with a potential for viewpoint discrimination, was a focus of Justice Alito's questions, but other Justices were also interested in what actually happened at the polling place. For Alito,but Rogan stressed the process and repeatedly noted that for one hundred years the statute has not been a problem and that Minnesotans know not to wear political slogans to go vote. If there are issues, Rogan stated, they are rather expeditiously solved in a bipartisan process at the polling place.

While one can assume their positions from their questions in oral argument from a few Justices - - - Alito seemed rather obvious - - - it is always risky to venture a guess about the outcome, especially when there is a conflict of constitutional interests. Indeed, this case may be most like Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar in which a closely-divided Court in 2015 upheld an ethics rule prohibiting judicial candidates from solicitation; Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion.

[image via]

 

February 28, 2018 in Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Yet Another Gerrymandering Case, but with Not-Your-Usual Standing Problem

Judge William Q. Hayes (S.D. Cal.) on Friday dismissed a challenge to a city's new single-member districts for its city council elections for lack of standing. The ruling means that the city's new districting plan stays in place.

The case, Higginson v. Becerra, arose when the City of Poway switched from at at-large system to a single-member-district system of elections for its four-member city council. The City made the change reluctantly, and only in response to threatened litigation by a private attorney, who wrote to the council that its at-large system violated the California Voting Rights Act. (The attorney argued that the at-large system, along with racially polarized voting in the City, effectively prevented Latinos from electing a candidate of their choice.) The council vigorously disagreed that its at-large system violated the CVRA, but agreed to change, anyway, in order to avoid litigation costs.

After the council drew its new single-member districts, Don Higginson, a voter in the new District 2, sued, arguing that the CVRA violated equal protection. His theory was a little unusual: "The CVRA makes race the predominant factor in drawing electoral districts. Indeed, it makes race the only factor given that a political subdivision, such as the City, must abandon its at-large system based on the existence of racially polarized voting and nothing more." (In other words: according to Higgerson, because there was racially polarized voting, any CVRA requirement to undo the effects of that voting in an at-large system violated equal protection.)

Higginson sued AG Becerra for injunctive relief (to stop him from enforcing the CVRA) and the City for injunctive relief (to stop it from using its single-member district map, as required by the CVRA (according to Higgerson)).

The court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The court said that Higginson's harm in not being able to vote for council-members in three of the four districts (because the CVRA required the change to single-member districts)--assuming this was even a cognizable harm--wasn't traceable to AG Becerra or the City. As to AG Becerra, the court said that the AG had not enforced the CVRA against the City, and therefore couldn't have caused Higginson's alleged harm. As to the City, the court said that it acted out of a desire to avoid litigation costs, not because it thought its at-large system violated the CVRA, and therefore it couldn't have caused his alleged harm in the name of CVRA compliance. (For the same reasons, the court said that Higginson failed to demonstrate that his requested relief would redress his alleged harm.)

Without causation and redressability, Higginson lacked standing, and the court dismissed the case.

February 26, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Argument Preview: Election Attire and the First Amendment

On February 28, 2018, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, a First Amendment challenge to Minn. Stat. §211B.11, entitled "Soliciting near polling places," and includes among its petty misdemeanor violations a prohibition of political attire: "A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day."

The Eighth Circuit, in a brief opinion affirming the district judge's grant of summary judgment to the government defendants, upheld the statute against an as-applied First Amendment challenge.

ShirtThe plaintiffs sought to wear Tea Party apparel and part of their argument was that the Tea Party was not a political party and that they had been subject to selective enforcement. The Eighth Circuit rather summarily rejected both of these arguments finding that they were not supported by the record.  In a previous opinion, the Eighth Circuit had allowed plaintiffs to develop this record by reversing the district judge's initial dismissal of the complaint on the First Amendment as-applied claim, while affirming the dismissal of the First Amendment facial challenge and an equal protection challenge. One judge dissented on the First Amendment facial challenge claim.  And it this facial challenge that is before the United States Supreme Court, the question presented by the petition for certiorari is: "Is Minnesota Statute Section 211B.11(1), which broadly bans all political apparel at the polling place, facially overbroad under the First Amendment?"

Undoubtedly the political attire at issue is expressive speech that the government could not ordinarily ban under the First Amendment. Thus, the status of the polling place on election day as an exception will be the centerpiece of the arguments. In Burson v. Freeman (1992), the Court upheld a Tennessee statute which prohibited the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place. The plurality opinion by Justice Blackmun applied strict scrutiny, finding that 100 feet parameter involved a public forum and that the speech was being regulated on the basis of its content. However, confronted with a "particularly difficult reconciliation" of rights: "the accommodation of the right to engage in political discourse with the right to vote - a right at the heart of our democracy," the plurality found that this was a "rare case" in which a statute survived strict scrutiny. 

Here, the State, as recognized administrator of elections, has asserted that the exercise of free speech rights conflicts with another fundamental right, the right to cast a ballot in an election free from the taint of intimidation and fraud. A long history, a substantial consensus, and simple common sense show that some restricted zone around polling places is necessary to protect that fundamental right. Given the conflict between these two rights, we hold that requiring solicitors to stand 100 feet from the entrances to polling places does not constitute an unconstitutional compromise. 

 Concurring, Justice Scalia disagreed that the case involved a public forum: "Because restrictions on speech around polling places on election day are as venerable a part of the American tradition as the secret ballot,"  "exacting scrutiny" was inappropriate. Instead, Scalia contended that although the statute was content based, it was "constitutional because it is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral regulation of a nonpublic forum."

In addition to this precedent, it will be difficult to ignore that the oral argument will be occurring at the United States Supreme Court with its specific instruction to visitors to the argument that "identification tags (other than military), display buttons and inappropriate clothing may not be worn." Additionally, two federal statutes, 40 U.S.C. §6135 and 40 U.S.C. 13k make it unlawful "to display therein any flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice any party, organization, or movement" in the Supreme Court building or grounds.  The Court determined that the prohibition of political speech as applied to the surrounding sidewalk of the Supreme Court was unconstitutional in United States v. Grace (1983) (Mary Grace was displaying a placard with the First Amendment), but stopped far short of declaring the statute unconstitutional. Dissenting in part, Justice Marshall contended that the entire statute should be unconstitutional, noting that it “would be ironic indeed if an exception to the Constitution were to be recognized for the very institution that has the chief responsibility for protecting constitutional rights.”

But after some D.C. courts had upheld the statutes, a D.C. district judge declared U.S.C. §6135 unconstitutional in Hodge v. Talkin (2013), causing the Supreme Court to amend its regulations regarding the term "demonstration" to exclude "casual use by visitors or tourists that is not reasonably likely to attract a crowd or onlookers.," but to nevertheless continue to prohibit "all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances." Nevertheless, a person arrested for wearing a jacket with the words "Occupy Everywhere" as a seemingly casual visitor to the Supreme Court building achieved little success in his attempt to vindicate himself.  In other courtrooms, judges have banned spectators from wearing expressions related to the proceedings, for example in the trial of Bei Bei Shuai for ingesting poison to kill herself that harmed her fetus, and in the high-profile criminal trial of Cecily McMillan for assaulting a police officer who she alleged grabbed her breast. The United States Supreme Court obliquely confronted the issue of courtroom spectator in 2006 in Carey v. Musladin, which was decided on other procedural grounds. (For more discussion of spectator attire in courtrooms see Dressing Constitutionally).

The courtroom analogy will most likely surface at some point during the oral argument. In its brief, the Minnesota Voters Alliance relies on Justice Marshall's partial dissenting opinion in Grace, while Manksy's Respondent's brief ventures a specific analogy:

Because voting rights are of such bedrock importance, a polling place—like a courtroom—can reasonably be restricted to reflect the solemn and weighty nature of the function that occurs there.

But it will be interesting to hear how specific comparisons the United States Supreme Court's own practices in banning political t-shirts and similar attire will be. As for the attire of those attending the oral argument, if past practices hold, none of them will be wearing a Tea Party t-shirt or even a button expressing a political viewpoint.

Buttons

February 26, 2018 in Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Speech, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Check it Out: Tomasky on General Ticket Voting

Check out Michael Tomasky's piece Who Needs Congressional Districts? in the NYT. Against the backdrop of Pennsylvania redistricting, Tomasky argues in favor of "general ticket" voting--at-large elections--over single-member districts for congressional elections. As he points out, Article I, Section 2, says only this about congressional elections: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states." It does not prescribe single-member districts, and allows at-large elections and slate voting.

February 21, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)