Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Judge Eric Melgren (D. Kansas) today ordered the federal Election Assistance Commission to add language to state-specific instructions on the federal voter registration form for Arizona and Kansas that would require voter registration applicants to show proof of citizenship.
Arizona and Kansas previously announced that they would adopt a two-tier registration system, one for state elections and one for federal elections, in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. Recall that in that case the Court ruled that the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to "accept and use" a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections, preempted an Arizona law that required state officials to reject any application for registration that wasn't accompanied by proof of citizenship. The NVRA federal form simply required applicants to aver, under penalty of perjury, that they satisfy state requirements for voter registration. The Court said that Arizona impermissibly required more.
Arizona and Kansas announced, in response to Inter Tribal Council, that they'd simply adopt a two-tiered system. That is, they'd continue to "accept and use" the federal form (without additional proof of citizenship) for registration for federal elections, and they'd use their own state form (with an additional requirement for documentary proof of citizenship) for state elections.
That seemed inefficient (among other things), to say the least.
Now, Judge Melgren's ruling, if upheld, might mean that Arizona and Kansas would ditch their efforts to create the two-tiered system, because they'd get what they want on the federal form--proof of each applicant's citizenship.
The ruling, if upheld, also invites other states to follow suit and get their own state-specific instructions on the NVRA federal form that would require additional documentary proof of citizenship. This could create hassles for registration through the federal form, even though a primary goal of that form was to make registration simpler. If many states did this, they could undermine the ease of registration that the NVRA was designed to promote.
The case, Kobach v. USEAC, grew out of Arizona's and Kansas's requests to the EAC to include state-specific instructions on the federal voter registration form that would require voter registration applicants in those states to show proof of citizenship. The states' requests came on the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.
The Court said that the NVRA preempted Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement, but it also said that a state could ask the EAC to add a proof-of-citizenship requirement on the state-specific instructions that accompany the NVRA federal form.
That's exactly what Kansas and Arizona did. The EAC declined, and the states sued, arguing that the EAC's decision violated the Administrative Procedures Act, among other things.
Judge Melgren agreed. He ruled that the adding the state-specific instructions on the NVRA federal form (to provide proof of citizenship) could be harmonized with the NVRA (and that the NVRA didn't preempt state law on this point):
But the NVRA does not include a similar clear and manifest prohibition against a state requiring documentary proof of citizenship. In fact, the NVRA does not address documentary proof of citizenship at all, neither allowing it nor prohibiting it. Therefore, the Court must find that the NVRA is silent on the subject. Because Congress has not addressed the same subject as the state law, there is no basis to determine that the NVRA has preempted Arizona or Kansas law on the subject of documentary proof of citizenship.
Moreover, Judge Melgren said that not allowing Kansas's and Arizona's requested instructions would raise serious constitutional questions--that is, whether the NVRA intrudes too much on state authority to set the qualifications of voters for state and federal elections under the Elections Clause. Judge Melgren wrote that requiring the EAC to include the requested state-specific instructions would avoid this question.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, challenging the IRS rule that allows donors to certain political organizations to remain under the radar.
The ruling means that CREW's effort in this court to get the IRS to rewrite its rule on 501(c)(4) organizations fails, and that unless and until the IRS rewrites its rule, 501(c)(4) organizations can continue engaging up to 49% of their activity in political spending while keeping their donors hidden from public view.
The case, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. IRS, challenged the IRS rule implementing Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. That provision grants a tax exemption for organizations "not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare." (Emphasis added.) But the IRS rule implementing that provision applies to organizations that are "primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community. An organization embraced within this section is one which is operated primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterments and social improvements."
In short: The statutory "operated exclusively" became a regulatory "primarily engaged," giving 501(c)(4)s considerably more latitude to engage in electioneering.
That matters, because 501(c)(4) status allows organizations to spend money in politics while at the same time shielding the names of donors. Some 501(c)(4)s have taken the position, based on the IRS rule, that they qualify for tax exemption if they engage 49% of less in political donations. That's a lot of political donations--and a lot of shielding of donors--especially when the statute requires them to be "operated exclusively" for social welfare purposes.
So CREW sued, arguing that the IRS regulation let 501(c)(4)s get away with way more political spending, and shielding, than the Internal Revenue Code allowed.
But Judge Bates dismissed the case for lack of standing. He ruled that CREW could not establish informational injury, because its injury--lack of information on donors--was hypohetical and speculative. In particular, Judge Bates wrote that it wasn't the IRS regulation that prevented CREW from getting information on donors, but instead the organizations' decision on how to organize. In other words, if the IRS rewrote its regulation to conform to the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)(4)s might drop their tax-exempt status or reorganize under another tax-exempt provision to maintain donor confidentiality; but they wouldn't necessarily reorganize as 527s (which would require donor disclosure). Judge Bates wrote that this also prevented CREW from showing causation and redressability.
Judge Bates also ruled that CREW did not have standing based on programmatic injury--the injury to its ability to collect donor information and fulfill its watchdog mission. That's because CREW's injury isn't "fairly traceable" to the IRS decision not to rewrite its rule--there are other intervening causes of CREW's injury.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Pro Publica has a concise list of state-by-state changes to voting laws since the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Shelby County. The page includes an interactive map that shows how previously covered jurisdictions have taken advantage of their lack of coverage to impose tighter voting requirements.
Recall that the Supreme Court ruled last summer in Shelby County that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the coverage formula for the preclearance provision (in Section 5), exceeded congressional authority. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that "things had changed" since Congress enacted the VRA in 1965, but that the preclearance coverage formula hadn't kept pace. Moreover, he wrote that a coverage formula that treats states differently, as Sections 4 and 5 did, violated a newly minted principle of equal state sovereignty.
In the immediate wake of the ruling, previously covered jurisdictions like Texas and North Carolina moved swiftly to enact more restrictive voting requirements that were previously denied preclearance--bold, in-your-face moves that illustrated the impact of the Court's ruling. Since that time, more jurisdictions, many of them previously covered jurisdictions, have similarly tightened voting requirements in ways that will likely have disparate impacts on poor and racial minority communities.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Tenth Circuit Holds Colorado's Campaign Finance Scheme Unconstitutional as a Violation of Equal Protection
In its opinion this week in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, a panel of the Tenth Circuit unanimously held unconstitutional a differential contribution limit in the Colorado campaign finance scheme as violating the Equal Protection Clause.
The scheme, deriving from Colorado's Amendment 27 and statutes, provided that the campaign limit for contributions to candidates who ran in a primary election, even if unopposed, was $200 per person and there was an additional campaign limit of $200 per person for all candidates running in the general election. This meant that a candidate who was a member of a major party holding a primary had a per person limit of $400, while minor party and write-in candidates had a per person limit of only $200.
The panel held that because "the statutory classification affects a fundamental right, the right to political expression" the correct equal protection standard should be a "standard that is at least as rigorous as the standard applied under the First Amendment," and that under standard the classification fails. The panel found that the anti-corruption (or appearance of corruption) governmental interest was "sufficiently important," but the means chosen "are ill-conceived to advance these interests."
The statutory classification might advance the State’s asserted interest if write-ins, unaffiliated candidates, or minor-party nominees were more corruptible (or appeared more corruptible) than their Republican or Democratic opponents. But the Defendants have never made such a suggestion. In the absence of a link between the differing contribution limits and the battle against corruption, the means chosen are not closely drawn to the State’s asserted interest.
Concurring, Judge Gorsuch began by stating:
I confess some uncertainty about the level of scrutiny the Supreme Court wishes us to apply to this contribution limit challenge, but I harbor no question about the outcome we must reach. My colleagues are surely right that, as applied, Colorado’s statutory scheme offends the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, whatever plausible level of scrutiny we might deploy.
Interestingly, both the concurring opinion and the panel majority opinion, authored by Judge Bacharach, clearly rest their analysis on the Equal Protection Clause, and thus do not reach the First Amendment challenge. Nevertheless, First Amendment doctrine and precedent permeate the reasoning. Yet given that the Colorado campaign finance scheme results in such an untenable classification, the conclusion of an equal protection classification seems the right one.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
As we discussed yesterday, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance, as a response the the Court's holding in Shelby v. Holder that section 4(b) of the VRA was unconstitutional.
Tolson argues that while
there are some aspects of the legislation that may displease civil rights organizations, particularly the exemption of voter identification laws from coverage under the new formula, the proposal is a strong start to address the gaping hole in the preclearance regime created by the Court's decision in Shelby County.
But in some respects, she contends, the proposed legislation may go too far.
She argues that the proposed amendments to section 3(c) of the VRA are "alarming because they place a bull's eye squarely on the back of section 3(c)" as well as section 2. She notes that section 3(c) of the VRA is constitutional precisely "because its intentional discrimination requirement is identical to the constitutional standard for establishing violations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments."
She concludes that the "legislative focus should be limited to replacing the coverage formula and leaving section 3(c) alone."
Worth a read for anyone considering the proposed amendments to the VRA and the legacy of Shelby v. Holder.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
President Obama met today with the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a commission established after the President pledged in hi2 2013 State of the Union address to seek ways to provide better access to the polls. The Commission, headed by Robert Bauer and Benjamin Ginsberg, just issued its Report and Recommendations, including these key recommendations for state and local officials:
- Modernize the voter registration process through expansion of on-line voter registration and state collaboration in improving the accuracy of voter lists;
- Expand early voting days;
- Adopt new techniques to manage polling places efficiently; and
- Pave the way for the adoption of new technologies for voting.
Here's a video of President Obama's remarks at the meeting:
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representatives Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-MI) introduced legislation last week that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance. The legislation responds to the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Shelby County v. Holder, striking Section 4(b) of the VRA, the coverage formula for the preclearance requirement. That ruling left Section 5 preclearance nearly a dead letter (although litigants could still seek to have a court order a jurisdiction to bail-in to preclearance under Section 3).
The bills would update the coverage formula to include states that have 5 or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 years and political subdivisions that have 3 or more voting rights violations during the previous 15 years. (Coverage would continue for 10 years, unless the jurisdiction gets a court order releasing it.) This new formula would cover Georgia, Louisiana, Misissippi, and Texas, but not Alabama, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.
The bills also contain a number of other provisions, perhaps most notably expanding Section 3 bail-in so that litigants can ask a court to bail-in a jurisdiction when that jurisdiction has intentionally discriminated (as now) and for any other violation of the VRA. Ari Berman over at The Nation has a nice summary.
The new provisions will undoubtedly be challenged when and if they're enacted. On the one hand, they address a major concern of the Court in Shelby County: they update the coverage formula to use more current violations as the basis for coverage. But on the other hand, they still treat states differently (and potentially run afoul of the Court's new-found "equal sovereignty" doctrine), and the state-wide formula does not account for actual voter turn-out (although the political subdivision formula does) and neither formula addresses the number of elected officials--data that the Court found at least relevant in its ruling.
January 22, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Monday, January 20, 2014
Jeremiah Goulka's "How Federal Judges Use and Abuse the Words of Martin Luther King Jr. in Their Decisions," argues that when MLK is quoted in a federal court opinion, it's probably supporting a result that MLK would not have supported.
Goulka describes himself as a former law clerk to a judge on the Fifth Circuit, a former US Attorney and a former Republican - - - important perspectives for evaluating his largely polemical piece. Here's a snippet:
In Vera v. Richards (1994), a panel of three Republican judges considered a Texas redistricting law that created three minority-majority congressional districts. Judge Edith Jones, a Reagan appointee whom both presidents Bush considered elevating to the Supreme Court, opened the decision by stating that the Voting Rights Act of 1965:
"marked the full maturity in American political life of the Founders' idea that "all men are created equal" and the Rev. Martin Luther King's hope that his children would be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin."
Ah, yes, the famous "content of their character" line. A little later in her introduction, she continues in the same vein:
"Racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional, but it is also morally wrong, inconsistent with our founding tradition and Martin Luther King's vision. The color of a person's skin or his or her ethnic identity is the least meaningful way in which to understand that person."
I can think of less meaningful ways to understand a person. (Do you like hot dogs?) You can guess which way they ruled.
This is worth a read on this MLK holiday. For a less provocative read, there is President Obama's Proclamation.
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Julie Ebenstein of the ACLU writes on Jurist.org that the dual system of voter registration in Kansas unlawfully denies citizens the right to vote. Ebenstein outlines the Kansas case challenging the dual system under state constitutional provisions, filed last November and now pending in state court.
As we wrote, two states, Arizona and Kansas, adopted a dual system of voter registration in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. In that case, the Court held that the requirement under the National Voter Registration Act that states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration. (The NVRA form requires applicants simply to attest to their citizenship, not to provide additional documentation.)
Arizona and Kansas then announced that they would require voters to register separately for state and federal elections. This created a dual system of voter registration: NVRA and state-form registrants before January 1, 2013, can vote in both state and federal elections; but NVRA registrants after January 1, 2013, can vote in only federal elections. (NVRA registrants after that date also can't sign petitions.) Now only state-form registrants who provide the additional proof of citizenship can vote in state elections. State-form registrants who fail to provide the additional proof of citizenship cannot vote at all.
The ACLU and ACLU of Kansas filed suit last November challenging the dual registration system. The complaint, filed in state court, alleges that the system violates state constitutional equal protection by distinguishing between classes of voters in the state, that state officials exceeded their state constitutional authority, and that the system wasn't properly promulgated as a rule or regulation under Kansas law.
January 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Comparative Constitutionalism, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, News, Preemption, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, January 10, 2014
Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Susan B Anthony Fund v. Driehaus on Ohio's Prohibition of False Election Statements
The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Susan B Anthony Fund v. Driehaus raising an issue of ripeness as well as a First Amendment issue.
The background of the case involves "Obamacare," the pro-life/anti-choice Susan B Anthony (SBA) Fund, Congressperson Steve Driehaus (pictured) and Ohio statutes that prohibit false statements in campaigns.
As the Sixth Circuit, explained, during the 2010 campaign, the SBA List wanted to put up a billboard in then-Congressman Driehaus's district criticizing his vote in favor of the Act. The planned billboard read: "Shame on Steve Driehaus! Driehaus voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion." But the billboard never went up because the advertising company that owned the billboard space refused to put up the advertisement after Driehaus's counsel threatened legal action against it.
On October 4, 2010, Driehaus filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission against SBA List claiming that the advertisement violated two sections of Ohio's false-statement statute. The first states that "[n]o person, during the course of any campaign for nomination or election to public office or office of a political party, by means of campaign materials . . . shall knowingly and with intent to affect the outcome of such campaign . . . [m]ake a false statement concerning the voting record of a candidate or public official." Ohio Rev. Code § 3517.21(B)(9). The second section prohibits posting, publishing, circulating, distributing, or otherwise disseminating "a false statement concerning a candidate, either knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not, if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate." Id . § 3517.21(B)(10).
The Sixth Circuit held that the claim was not ripe, reasoning that it could not show "an imminent threat of prosecution at the hands of any defendant" and thus could not "show a likelihood of harm to establish that its challenge is ripe for review." There was no hardship to SBA beacuse its speech was not chilled, according to the Sixth Circuit: the only speech involved was the billboard and SBA List's president appeared on television and promised to "double down" to make sure its message flooded the congressperson's district.
Thus, the Sixth Circuit did not reach the First Amendment issue regarding Ohio's prohibition of false speech. On this issue, the Court's opinion holding unconstitutional the criminalization of false statements in the federal "Stolen Valor" Act in its 2012 opinion in United States v. Alvarez is sure to assume center stage. The Court will have another chance to consider whether falsity should be categorically excluded from First Amendment protections of speech.
Rachel Maddow posits the possibility that the scandal surrounding New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and the traffic jam by the city of Fort Lee at the George Washington Bridge may have less to do with the election than with the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Much of Maddow's conjecture rests on the timing of the now infamous email "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," sent on the morning of August 13, 2013 by a top Christie aide from her private email account to a Port of Authority official who responded "Got it."
But to understand the Maddow theory, one needs to return to 2010. Recall that as we discussed in May 2010, there was a potential "constitutional conflict" brewing over Governor Christie's non-"reappointment" of John Wallace, then the only African-American of the seven state justices on the New Jersey Supreme Court. And recall also that despite objections from retired members of the judicary, Christie reportedly found "laughable" any notion that politics was not part of the judicial appointment process, pointing to the fact that there would be another election in 2013.
But John Wallace was not the only NJ Supreme Court Justice whose reappointment would be at issue during Christie's first term. Another Justice, supported by Christie, was due before the Senate. And the NJ Senate Democrats - - - led by a legislator from Fort Lee - - - may not have been being co-operative. In any case, Christie withdrew his reappointment of that Justice the evening before the GW Bridge lane closures began.
Here's the video from the Rachel Maddow Show:
Worth a read with details is the discussion of MSNBC's Steve Benen.
Friday, October 18, 2013
The states of Arizona and Kansas have announced that they will require voters to register separately for state and federal elections--using the standard federal form for federal elections, but using more stringent requirements for state registration.
The moves are a response to the Supreme Court's ruling this summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona. That case held that the federal requirement under the National Voter Registration Act that states "accept and use" an approved and uniform federal form for registering voters preempted Arizona's requirement that voters present evidence of citizenship at registration. (Under this system, state voters could register for federal and state elections all at once, using the same standardized federal form, with the same requirements.) The result: the Court struck Arizona's proof-of-citizenship add-on to the standardized federal form.
So the states sought a work-around, so that they could retain a proof-of-citizenship requirement for some voter registration. And they came up with the only voter registration that they now seem to have control over: registration for state elections.
The states say that Inter Tribal applies only to federal elections, that they can design and use their own forms for state elections, and that voters who register using only the federal form are qualified only to vote in federal elections (and not state and local elections). To the states, this all means that a two-tiered system makes sense.
Under the two-tiered system, voters in those states could register for federal elections using the NVRA standardized federal form. But voters would have to show additional proof of citizenship--of the kind struck in Inter Tribal--in order to register to vote in state elections.
The moves harken back to practices in the Jim Crow South and stand as a barrier to voter registration. Ari Berman argues over at The Nation:
In the Jim Crow South, citizens often had to register multiple times, with different clerks, to be able to vote in state and federal elections. It was hard enough to register once in states like Mississippi, were only 6.7 percent of African-Americans were registered to vote before the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. And when the federal courts struck down a literacy test or a poll tax before 1965, states like Mississippi still retained them for state and local elections, thereby preventing African-American voters from replacing those officials most responsible for upholding voter disenfranchisement laws. . . .
Over 300,000 voters were prevented from registering in Arizona after its proof-of-citizenship law passed in 2004. In Kansas, 17,000 voters have been blocked from registering this year, a third of all registered applicants, because the DMV doesn't transfer citizenship documents to election officials.
At the very least, the two-tiered systems promise to complicate voter registration and maintenance of voter lists for the states.
Still: there's little or no evidence of voter fraud.
Monday, September 30, 2013
AG Eric Holder announced today that the U.S. Department of Justice would file suit against North Carolina in federal court to stop its new restrictions on voting. We previously posted on the ACLU suit against the state here.
The complaint alleges that North Carolina HB 589 reduces early voting days, eliminates same-day voter registration during early voting, prohibits the counting of provisional ballots cast outside a voter's precinct, and imposes a voter ID requirement--all in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. DOJ argues that the changes have both a discriminatory purpose and a discriminatory effect. The Department also seeks "bail-in" under Section 3(c) of the VRA.
The cases come in the wake of the Court's ruling this summer in Shelby County v. Holder striking Section 4(b) of the VRA, the coverage formula for the preclearance requirement. By striking Section 4(b), the Court rendered Section 5 preclearance a dead letter, unless and until Congress can rewrite it in a way that would pass muster with this Court--that is, likely never. Section 3(c) bail-in works very much like Section 5 preclearance, though. If acourt orders bail-in, it will retain jurisdiction over the state "for such period as it may deem appropriate and during such period no voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting different from that in force or effect at the time the proceeding was commenced shall be enforced unless and until the court finds that such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure does not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color . . . ."
The North Carolina and Texas cases are sure to raise two new fronts in the assault on the Voting Rights Act: challenges to congressional authority to enact Section 3(c) bail-in, and challenges to congressional authority under Section 2 to ban state laws that have a discriminatory effect (even if not a discriminatory purpose).
September 30, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, September 20, 2013
The Brennan Center filed suit this week in federal court on behalf the Texas State Conference of the NAACP and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives challenging SB 14, Texas's strict voter ID law. The Brennan Center's resource page on the case is here.
The suit this week comes soon after the United States Department of Justice filed its own suit against Texas to stop SB 14.
Recall that the Texas AG announced that the state would move to enforce SB 14 soon after the Supreme Court struck the coverage formula for the preclearance requirement in the Voting Rights Act this summer in Shelby County v. Holder.
The suit filed this week, like the DOJ suit before it, also seeks "bail-in" under Section 3(c) of the Voting Rights Act--that is, an order by the federal court for continued monitoring of the state that would operate very much like preclearance under Section 5 would have operated against a covered state like Texas (until the Court struck the coverage formula, leaving Section 5 a dead letter, in Shelby County).
Section 3(c) bail-in may be the next litigation target (after opponents succeeded in challenging the coverage formula for preclearance in Shelby County) for states like Texas facing VRA suits. Texas's responses to these suits will tell.
September 20, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Fourth Circuit's opinion in Bland v. Roberts addresses whether Sheriff Roberts violated the First Amendment rights of the six plaintiffs by terminating their employment in retailiation for their support of his opponent in an election, and whether Roberts has immunity. The court reverses in part the grant of summary judgment to the sheriff by the district judge.
As the panel notes, the applicable doctrine is a merging of public employee speech doctrine, especially their rights to speak as private citizens which was clearly the case here, and "the established jurisprudence governing the discharge of public employees, because of their political beliefs and affiliation," as in Elrod v. Burns (1976) and Branti v. Finkel (1980).
An important question for some of the plaintiffs was whether some of their actions "on Facebook" met the First Amendment threshold of "speech." The district court had concluded that “merely ‘liking’ a Facebook page was insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection,” but the Fourth Circuit panel disagreed. Its discussion of Fabeook's "like" - - - citing the amicus brief of Facebook, Inc. and posts on the Facebook site such as "What is a Facebook Page?" - - - led to its conclusion that once one understands the nature of what one of the plaintiffs
did by liking the Campaign Page, it becomes apparent that his conduct qualifies as speech. On the most basic level, clicking on the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the User “likes” something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.
Moreover, the importance of Facebook was clear, given that Sheriff Roberts "specifically warned his employees not to support [his rival] Adams through Facebook." Roberts also seemingly specifically "threatened that Adams supporters would not be reappointed."
Nevertheless, the Fourth Circuit panel found that three of the six plaintiffs did not present sufficient evidence to create a jury question. Additionally, the panel found that the defendant was entitled to qualified immunity given the state of the law and Eleventh Amendment immunity as to money damanges, but not on the issue of reinstatement.
Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander, a Maryland District Judge sitting by designation, wrote separately to dsisagree on the issue of qualified immunity on the state of the law.
The majority concludes that, at the relevant time, “a reasonable sheriff could have believed he had the right to choose not to reappoint his sworn deputies for political reasons,” and, on this basis, it determines that Sheriff Roberts is protected by qualified immunity with respect to his discharge of [the three plaintiffs]. In my view, when these deputies were discharged in December 2009, the law was clearly established that a sheriff’s deputy with the job duties of a jailer could not be fired on the basis of political affiliation.
This case will most likely be cited and known for its finding of "like" on Facebook as speech. But in addition, with its interweaving First Amendment issues and its questions of qualified immunity, Eleventh Amendment and otherwise, this case could be the basis of an interesting in-class exercise - - - or even exam question - - - for ConLawProfs.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
From an announcement:
19th Annual Mid-Atlantic People of Color
Legal Scholarship Conference 2014
Hosted by the University of Baltimore School of Law
January 23-25, 2014
– Conference Theme & Call for Papers –
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and Beyond:
The Historical and Contemporary Implications of Progressive Action and Human Fulfillment
Honoring and Critiquing the 50th Anniversary of Johnson’s Vision
In May 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson unveiled his revolutionary plans for the Great Society. As he explained it, Americans “have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society. . . . The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice.”
According to Doris Kearns Goodwin, who wrote Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, Johnson’s Great Society would be based on “progressive action” and the “possibilities for human fulfillment.” This action and fulfillment meant that regaining control of our society required us to end policies that threatened and degraded humanity.
Johnson’s Great Society reforms, included the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Medicare, Medicaid, Equal Opportunity Act, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Social Security expansion, the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Higher Education Act, Head Start, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965, and the Open Housing Act of 1968. These laws extended and expanded the Bill of Rights and continued and expanded the programs initiated in Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s and Truman’s Fair Deal in the late 1940s and early 1050s. As a result of LBJ’s programs, America’s official poverty rate declined throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 11.2 percent in 1974, down from 19 percent in 1964, and most recently settling at 15.1 percent in 2010. According to Dylan Matthews, who wrote Poverty in the 50 Years Since ‘The Other America,’ in Five Charts, Johnson’s Great Society programs, which included the War on Poverty, “made a real and lasting difference.” Moreover, according to Demos, an estimated 40 million Americans avoided official poverty due to such programs as food stamps and Medicaid.
Unfortunately, what is also true is that the Vietnam War, which Johnson escalated and only at the end of his administration moved to end, crippled his domestic economic policies and undermined his goals for true racial equality. Despite the War on Poverty and dramatic changes in Civil Rights, racially concentrated poverty remains with us. Since the Johnson years, America has weathered the recessions of the 1980s and early 1990s, the late ‘90s dot com bubble, our current recession, the national security encroachment on civil liberties, the rise and fall of the Occupy Movement, the waning of the Arab Spring, and two middle east wars since 9-11.
It is clear that Johnson’s Great Society programs have saved millions of Americans from the depth of official poverty. It also true that Johnson’s vision, to which he was truly committed, staggered and failed when the civil rights movement dovetailed with political marginalization, economic inequality, pervasive racial discrimination, and imperialist policies. The Moynihan Report, the Watts Riots and urban unrests, and the emotional and financial suck of Vietnam prevented Johnson from deeply redressing America’s lingering poverty.
At MAPOC 2014, we intend to explore the furthest implications of President Johnson’s domestic and foreign policies, especially the impact of these policies on progressive action and human fulfillment, as we collectively explore and analyze the contemporary implications of Johnson’s Great Society. From these implications, the conference planning committee is seeking papers and panel proposals on the following substantive but not exhaustive subjects:
-- A Hand Up: The Meaningful Tension Between Formal Equality and Substantive Outcomes under the Civil Rights Act of 1964
-- Beyond Legislative Bogs and Dangerous Political Animals: President Obama’s Legislative Agenda and the Limits of Second-Term Progressivism
-- Endangered Citizens?: Rights and Remedies after State v. Zimmerman
-- Equality, Choice, and Happiness: the Rise and Fall of DOMA
-- Guns or Butter: Social Welfare Programs, Modern Problems of Central Banks, Debt Slavery, and Foreign Policies
-- Medicare, Healthcare, and Welfare: the Poor, the Elderly, and the Needy
-- Moynihan and the Contemporary (In)Stability of the Black Family
-- Racial (Dis)Harmony Then and Today
-- Voting Rights: Shelby County v. Holder and the Promise of One Citizen, One Vote
Paper submissions must include a working title, bios, abstract, and contact information.
Panel proposals must also include the foregoing information for each of the panel’s participants, and the organizer’s contact information, all of which must be submitted together only by the organizer.
Submit Papers and Panel Proposals by September 30, 2013 to: Reginald Leamon Robinson, Howard University, Conference Chair and Founder, MAPOC 2014: email@example.com.
[image: LBJ, National Portrait Gallery, via]
September 7, 2013 in Conferences, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Family, Federalism, Fundamental Rights, Gender, Race, Recent Cases, Scholarship, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, August 30, 2013
The ACLU filed suit earlier this month in the Middle District of North Carolina challenging the state's new restrictions on voting under the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. Recall that North Carolina, a previously partially covered jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act, moved quickly after the Supreme Court struck the preclearance coverage formula in Shelby County v. Holder to introduce certain restrictions on the vote, knowing that the full state was free of the preclearance requirement. The ACLU's suit, League of Women Voters of North Carolina v. North Carolina, challenges certain provisions in the state's Voter Information Verification Act, or VIVA.
In particular, the case challenges restrictions on early voting in the state, restrictions on same-day registration, and restrictions on out-of-precinct voting in the state.
The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, and bail-in under Section 3 of the VRA. Bail-in allows a federal court to order continued monitoring of a state's proposed changes to its election laws upon a showing that the state's violations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments justify such monitoring--much like Section 5 preclearance, except that the coverage formula isn't fixed.
After Shelby County struck the coverage formula in Section 4(b), and thus rendered Section 5 preclearance a dead letter, Section 3(c) bail-in is the only way that the VRA might authorize continuing federal preclearance of a state's proposed changes to its election laws. The ACLU sought Section 3(c) relief here, and the Department of Justice sought Section 3(c) relief in its recently filed case against Texas.
If the Texas AG's press release is any indication of a litigation position, Section 3(c) is the next likely provision in the VRA to go on the chopping block under a challenge that it exceeds congressional authority under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
AG Eric Holder announced today that the U.S. Department of Justice will ask a federal district court in Texas to bail-in Texas for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. The move, the Department's first after the Supreme Court struck the Section 4 coverage formula for preclearance in Shelby County v. Holder, is part of Holder's announced strategy to use still-available portions of the Voting Rights Act (like bail-in and Section 2 litigation) to enforce voting rights.
If successful, bail-in would mean that Texas would be subject to the preclearance requirement, notwithstanding the Court's ruling in Shelby County. That's because the Court in Shelby County struck the coverage formula for preclearance (in Section 4 of the VRA), but didn't touch other portions of the VRA, including the bail-in provision in Section 3(c). (It also didn't touch Section 5, the preclearance provision.) Under the bail-in provision in Section 3(c), the DOJ can seek continued federal court monitoring of an offending jurisdiction, a freeze on the jurisdiction's election laws, and a requirement that the jurisdiction get permission, or preclearance, from the court or the DOJ before it makes any changes to its election laws.
AG Holder cited the federal court's rejection of preclearance to Texas's redistricting, which the court said had both the purpose and effect of discriminating in the vote, as support for his action. (Recall that the Supreme Court vacated that federal court's rejection of preclearance shortly after it handed down Shelby County.)
If successful, AG Holder will subject Texas again to preclearance. This approach, seeking individual jurisdiction bail-in under Section 3(c) of the VRA, is a more tailored way to target particularly offending jurisdictions than the coverage formula in Section 4, struck by the Court in Shelby County. Still, it may face some of the same problems that Section 4 faced in Shelby County--particularly, it may run up against the new "equal state sovereignty" doctrine that we wrote about here.
July 25, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, July 19, 2013
Justice John Paul Stevens in the New York Review of Books writes a thoughtful "dissent" in the Court's ruling in Shelby County around his review of Gary May's outstanding book Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy (Basic). Justice Stevens's piece is mostly an indictment of Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion in Shelby County, based on some of May's study of voting discrimination; but he also has quite kind things to say (and justifiably so) about May's excellent history. (Our posts on Shelby County itself are collected here.)
Justice Stevens writes that May takes a longer, more detailed view of the history of voting than Chief Justice Roberts did in Shelby County--a view that Justice Ginsburg also took in her dissent in that case. He notes that Chief Justice Roberts didn't even mention anything before 1890 in his opinion, and glossed over significant details since.
And Justice Stevens takes on Chief Justice Roberts's new-found doctrine of "equal state sovereignty"--a doctrine that drove a good part of the result. Justice Stevens says that unequal treatment of states is woven right in to the fabric of the Constitution itself. In particular, the three-fifths clause gave southern states a "slave bonus" in political power, giving those states disproportionate representation and even leading to the election of Thomas Jefferson over John Adams in 1800. If the original text of the Constitution itself can treat states so dramatically differently, why this new doctrine of equal state sovereignty? (We posted on this new doctrine here.) (It can be no answer that the Reconstruction Amendments abolished the three-fifths counting system, for the Reconstruction Amendments themselves were specifically designed to give Congress power over the states, and led to dramatically different treatment of the states. It similarly can be no answer that the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments protect state sovereignty (even if they do), because the Reconstruction Amendments came after them. As last-in-time, they at least inform the meaning of the earlier amendments, even if they don't do away with them entirely.)
July 19, 2013 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, History, News, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, July 12, 2013
The Ninth Circuit ruled this week in Townley v. Miller that plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge a Nevada law that allows voters to choose "None of these candidates," but does not count those votes in determining an election winner.
The ruling means that the case is dismissed and the challenge to the NOTC law goes away. NOTC stays on the books in Nevada. It's not obvious that the plaintiffs had any serious claim on the merits, anyway.
Nevada's NOTC law allows voters to register their preference for none-of-the-above by ticking the box for "none of these candidates" on an election ballot. The state counts these votes and reports them, but it doesn't use them to determine the winner of the election. Instead, these votes are treated as blank votes. Their value is in publicizing the extent of voter discontent with the named options on the ballot.
Plaintiffs challenged that portion of the NOTC law that says that NOTC votes aren't counted in determining the winner of an election. They said that this provision disenfranchises them--because it means that their NOTC votes don't count.
The Ninth Circuit dismissed the case, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing. Seven of the plaintiffs didn't say in the complaint that they had or would vote NOTC, and the court concluded that they didn't assert a sufficient injury in fact. Two plaintiffs said they would vote NOTC, but the court said that their case wouldn't redress their alleged harm. Those two plaintiffs asked the court to strike the NOTC option from the ballot entirely, and not just to order the state to count NOTC votes. The court said that this would only disenfranchise them more, not redress their claimed disenfranchisement. The remaining plaintiffs alleged competitive standing--standing based on a candidate's or party's challenge to the inclusion of an ineligible rival on the ballot--but the court said that their injuries (if any) were not caused by the NOTC law and that their cases wouldn't redress any of their alleged injuries. The problem was that these plaintiffs conceded the legality of the NOTC option on the ballot--"the voter option that would have a siphoning effect," op. at 16--and therefore failed to connect their injuries to their claim and requested relief.