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)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Federal Judge Declares Florida's Felony Disenfranchisement Restoration Scheme Unconstitutional

 In his opinion in Hand v. Scott, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Florida Mark Walker declared Florida's re-enfranchisement scheme for persons convicted of felonies to be restored their right to vote unconstitutional under both the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

The court's decision was on cross motions for summary judgment and Judge Walker opens his opinion by describing the Florida scheme:

Florida strips the right to vote from every man and woman who commits a felony. To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s Governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration. Until that moment (if it ever comes), these citizens cannot legally vote for presidents, governors, senators, representatives, mayors, or school-board members. These citizens are subject to the consequences of bills, actions, programs, and policies that their elected leaders enact and enforce. But these citizens cannot ever legally vote unless Florida’s Governor approves restoration of this fundamental right.

Florida’s Executive Clemency Board has, by rule, unfettered discretion in restoring voting rights. “We can do whatever we want,” the Governor said at one clemency hearing.  One need not search long to find alarming illustrations of this scheme in action. In 2010, a white man, Steven Warner, cast an illegal ballot. Three years later, he sought the restoration of his voting rights. He went before the state’s Executive Clemency Board, where Governor Scott asked him about his illegal voting.

“Actually, I voted for you,” he said. The Governor laughed. “I probably shouldn’t respond to that.” A few seconds passed. The Governor then granted the former felon his voting rights.

Spanish_Florida_Map_1803While the state can deny persons convicted of a felony the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment as construed by the Court in Richardson v. Ramirez (1974), the issue before Judge Walker was whether the vote restoration process was constitutional. Seemingly, the state argued it had absolute discretion to restore voting rights. Judge Walker held that such discretion violated the First Amendment rights to free association and expression, and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

On the First Amendment claim, Judge Walker first articulated the right of free political association and then the right to vote as including a First Amendment right, interestingly relying in part on Citizens United.  Judge Walker writes that the unfettered discretion in vote restoration cannot survive exacting scrutiny.  Even if the government interest in limiting the franchise to responsible persons is valid, "Florida does not use the least-restrictive means to pursue its interests in preventing possibly irresponsible citizens from choosing their leaders."

Florida’s vote-restoration scheme is crushingly restrictive. The scheme crumbles under strict scrutiny because it risks—if not covertly authorizes the practice of—arbitrary and discriminatory vote-restoration. When a scheme allows government officials to “do whatever [they] want,” viewpoint discrimination can slip through the cracks of a seemingly impartial process. [citing record] Such discrimination can lead to a denial of “the fruits of their association, to wit: [former felons’] political impact”—or widespread, insidious bias to benefit the Governor’s political party. Touchston, 234 F.3d at 1154 (Tjoflat, J., dissenting). State officials’ potential political, racial, or religious biases cannot poison the well of vote-restoration.

Judge Walker discussed several instances of possible discrimination and disparities, but ultimately concluded that it was the possibility of discrimination from unfettered discretion that was crucial. Additionally, the Governor as ultimate arbiter was fatal:

 [t]he Governor has de facto veto authority over anyone’s restoration. All the component parts of the vote- restoration process that Defendants wave like shiny objects to distract from potential viewpoint discrimination—the investigations, case analyses, and hearings—mean nothing if the Governor alone has final authority to restore Plaintiffs’ rights.

Further, Judge Walker rejected the State's argument that the vote restoration scheme was akin to unreviewable executive clemency:

Executive clemency by its mere existence cannot serve as a legitimate, let alone compelling, state interest. No serious person would argue that an act of executive clemency that, for example, is motivated by race cannot run afoul of the Constitution simply because it is an act of executive clemency. This Court recognizes the novelty of a challenge to an executive clemency scheme. But “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803). And so, if a court finds unconstitutionality in an executive clemency scheme, its role is to strike the acts permitting the constitutional violation—not to declare its hands tied.

On the Equal Protection Clause claim, Judge Walker essentially applied rational basis scrutiny and found that the "violation in this case—the substantial risk of arbitrary and discriminatory vote-restoration based on an applicant’s identity and perceived voting preferences from partisan government officials— is worse than a coin flip."  Judge Walker stated that while the state may have a legitimate interest in limiting the franchise to responsible voters, the means chosen failed because it was at best, "arbitrary and disparate," interestingly quoting Bush v. Gore, on which the plaintiffs relied. Judge Walker added that at worst, the scheme would be discriminatory.

Judge Walker ordered additional briefings regarding remedies. Even if the state does not appeal, the question of remedies will be a difficult one.

Meanwhile, a ballot measure to restore voting rights to persons convicted of felonies has just been approved for the November ballot.

 

February 1, 2018 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Check it Out: Berman on Election Rigging

Check out Ari Berman's piece in Rolling Stone, How the GOP Rigs Elections. (Spoiler alert: gerrymandering, voter-ID laws, and dark money.)

January 24, 2018 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 19, 2018

SCOTUS Stays North Carolina Redistricting Order

 The United States Supreme Court granted the application of a stay by North Carolina in Rucho v. Common Cause pending appeal of the three judge court decision. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor would have denied the stay.

Recall that a three judge court decision on January 9 gave North Carolina until January 29 to submit a new redistricting plan to the Court after finding that North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4.

Now Common Cause joins the other partisan gerrymandering cases before the Court: Recall that the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford in the earliest days of this Term.  Recall also that in early December, the United States Supreme Court added another partisan gerrymandering case to its docket, Benisek v. Lamone. 

  Nypl.digitalcollections.510d47e0-f70c-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w

 

January 19, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Supremacy Clause, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Seventh Circuit Rules Against Territorial Plaintiffs in Absentee-Voting-Rights Case

The Seventh Circuit ruled that former Illinoisans who now live in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands lacked standing to challenge the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and lost on the merits in their claims against Illinois after the state rejected their requests for absentee-voter ballots.

The ruling means that former Illinoisans who reside in these territories won't receive an absentee-voter ballot from the state, unless Illinois changes its law.

The plaintiffs, former residents of Illinois but now residents of the territories, sued when Illinois denied them absentee-voter ballots for federal elections in Illinois. They claimed that the UOCAVA and Illinois law defined their territories as part of the United States and thus prohibited them from getting absentee ballots as overseas voters. They claimed that this violated equal protection and their right to travel.

The Seventh Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs didn't even have standing to challenge the UOCAVA. That's because while the UOCAVA defines "the United States" to include these territories, it doesn't prohibit Illinois from providing absentee ballots to the plaintiffs. Illinois law does that. As a result, the court said that the plaintiffs couldn't challenge the federal law, although they could still challenge state law.

As to state law, the court said that Illinois's classification didn't violate equal protection and its denial of absentee ballots didn't violate the right to travel. The court said that the plaintiffs have no fundamental right to vote in federal elections--"absent a constitutional amendment, only residents of the 50 States have the right to vote in federal elections"--and no claim to heightened scrutiny. The court held that Illinois's distinction between Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands (on the one hand) and the Northern Marianas and American Samoa (on the other, where former Illinoisans can get an absentee ballot) passed rational basis review, because at the time that Illinois enacted the distinction, "these two territories were . . . more similar to foreign nations than were the incorporated territories where the plaintiffs reside." (The court said it was OK to look at the state's justification at the time of the distinction, in 1979, instead of now, because "even if . . . the Northern Marianas and American Samoa became more integrated into the United States, it would not help the plaintiffs [who are] injured specifically because Illinois defines their resident territories as within the United States.")

The court summarily rejected the plaintiffs' right-to-travel argument as "borderline frivolous."

January 18, 2018 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 12, 2018

SCOTUS to Hear Texas Redistricting Case

The United States Supreme Court has announced it will hear Abbott v. Perez, a redistricting case decided by a three judge court in Texas.

Recall that the lengthy opinion under both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act included a finding of intentional racial discrimination by the Texas legislature.  The three judge court found that the plaintiffs could demonstrate "either through direct or circumstantial evidence that the government body adopted the electoral scheme with a discriminatory purpose, that the body maintained the scheme with discriminatory purpose, or that the system furthered pre-existing intentional discrimination." 

Texas_counties_map

The addition of Abbott v. Perez to the Court's docket heralds the 2017-2018 Term as a major one for redistricting, adding to the partisan gerrymandering cases of Gill v. Whitford (argued in October) and Benisek v. Lamone, and continuing to confront issues of racial gerrymandering as in last term's cases of Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections and Cooper v. Harris.

 

January 12, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Federal District Judge Rejects Challenge to Alabama Voter Identification Law

In his opinion in Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill, United States District Judge L. Scott Cooler granted summary judgment to the state in a challenge to Alabama's Photo Identification statute, Ala. Code § 17-9-30, passed in 2011 and first operative in 2014.  Plaintiffs argued that the photo identification law violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and the Fifteenth Amendment's guarantee that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Because the Alabama voter photo identification statute did not make an explicit racial classification, the plaintiffs had the burden of demonstrating that the statute had both racial intent and racial effect as the United Sates Supreme Court made clear in Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1977) and Washington v. Davis (1976).  Judge Cooler recited the Arlington Heights factors for intent - - - usually the more difficult prong to prove - - - but then determined that "such an undertaking is not necessary in this case," because plaintiffs did not show effect.  Judge Cooler concluded that in this case, "the Photo ID Law does not in fact discriminate on the basis of race." (emphasis in original).

Essentially, Judge Cooler rejected the relevance of expert testimony regarding the racial impact:

Also according to Dr. Siskin, 1.37% of white registered voters, 2.44% of Black registered voters, and 2.29% of Hispanic registered voters may not currently have an acceptable photo ID. Frankly, the discrepancy in photo ID possession rates among white, Black, and Hispanic registered voters in Alabama is miniscule. In other words, it appears that very few registrants of any racial group may presently be affected by the Photo ID Law. Nonetheless, the numbers show that Black and Latino registered voters are almost twice as likely as white voters to lack an acceptable photo ID for voting. Although Secretary Merrill’s expert’s numbers differ somewhat (Dr. Hood estimated that .87% of white, 1.44% of Black, and 1.26% of Hispanic registered voters lack photo ID), Secretary Merrill does not dispute that registered voters of color in Alabama are statistically more likely than white voters to lack the required photo ID.

Interestingly, Judge Cooler continued with an allusion to the high voter turnout in the hotly contested Alabama Senate race:

It is worth noting that any conclusions reached from this evidence must be qualified by the fact that the studies were completed in July 2016, and the actual possession rates are certainly in flux as voters who want them obtain photo IDs. Indeed, since the analyses were done, there has been a Presidential election and a special election to choose Alabama’s U.S. Senator. Many people who may not have had ID more than a year ago could have gotten one since, particularly if they wanted to participate in those elections.

But in the end, Dr. Siskin’s estimate does not matter. This is because a person who does not have a photo ID today is not prevented from voting if he or she can easily get one, and it is so easy to get a photo ID in Alabama, no one is prevented from voting.

 Judge Cooler then discussed the requirements for obtaining photo identification and concluded:

In sum, the “impact” of the law should not be measured by how many people lack a given ID at a given point in time, but by whether someone without an ID can easily get one. In Alabama, the law has no discriminatory impact because it does not prevent anyone from voting, not when free IDs are issued in every county, or at home, under conditions that any registered voter can meet.

Returning to the issue of intent, Judge Cooler found that "there is no evidence that the Alabama Legislature believed that a photo ID law would disadvantage minority voters, particularly after providing means for people without an ID to receive one free of charge."  Not surprisingly, Judge Cooler also denied the plaintiffs' claim under the Voting Rights Act.

Given the contentious state of efforts to prevent "voter fraud" that may be linked to efforts to suppress the vote by non-white voters, this is sure to be appealed.

Alabama_A&M_GOTV_rally

UPDATE: Notice of Appeal and Statement from LDF-NAACP here

January 11, 2018 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Three Judge Court Holds North Carolina Redistricting Unconstitutional

In an extensive and well-crafted opinion in the consolidated cases of Common Cause v. Rucho and League of Women Voters v. Rucho, a three judge court found North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4.

Recall that the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford in the earliest days of this Term.  Recall also that in early December, the United States Supreme Court added another partisan gerrymandering case to its docket, Benisek v. Lamone. 

Fourth Circuit Judge James Wynn's almost 200 page opinion for the majority, joined by Senior District Judge Britt, first discusses the facts involved in the North Carolina redistricting, some incidents and players of which will be familiar from the Supreme Court's opinion in Cooper v. Harris, a racial gerrymandering case challenging only two districts and arising from an earlier North Carolina redistricting.

This is the 2016 plan at issue in Common Cause and League of Women Voters:

NorthCarolina2016USHouseDistricts

Judge Wynn's opinion carefully resolves the question of standing and justiability.  Important to the justiciability analysis is the issue of judicially manageable standards, and Judge Wynn writes a robust support for social science, noting that the "Supreme Court long has relied on statistical and social science analyses as evidence that a defendant violated a standard set forth in the Constitution" and citing cases under the Equal Protection Clause such as Yick Wo v. Hopkins, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and City of Richmond v. J.A. Croson Co.  (It is interesting in this regard to (re)consider Chief Justice Roberts's statements during the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford disparaging social science.) 

Judge Wynn wrote:

To hold that such widely used, and relied upon, methods cannot provide a judicially manageable standard for adjudicating Plaintiffs’ partisan gerrymandering claims would be to admit that the judiciary lacks the competence—or willingness—to keep pace with the technical advances that simultaneously facilitate such invidious partisanship and provide an opportunity to remedy it.

On the merits of the Equal Protection Clause claim, Judge Wynn's opinion found that there must be an intent to discriminate on a partisan basis and that there was such an effect, and then the burden would shift to the governmental defendant to prove that a legitimate state interest or other neutral factor justified such discrimination. Here, Judge Wynn's opinion concluded that all were resolved in the challengers' favor.  On the First Amendment claim, Judge Wynn considered several strands of doctrine:

Against these many, multifaceted lines of precedent, the First Amendment’s applicability to partisan gerrymandering is manifest. How can the First Amendment prohibit the government from disfavoring certain viewpoints, yet allow a legislature to enact a districting plan that disfavors supporters of a particular set of political beliefs? How can the First Amendment bar the government from disfavoring a class of speakers, but allow a districting plan to disfavor a class of voters? How can the First Amendment protect government employees’ political speech rights, but stand idle when the government infringes on voters’ political speech rights? And how can the First Amendment ensure that candidates ascribing to all manner of political beliefs have a reasonable opportunity to appear on the ballot, and yet allow a state electoral system to favor one set of political beliefs over others? We conclude that the First Amendment does not draw such fine lines.

Nevertheless, with no clear framework for resolving the First Amendment issues, Judge Wynn found that the Equal protection framework was most applicable, and again satisfied by the plaintiffs.
 
Finally, the court found that North Carolina's "2016 Plan’s invidious partisanship runs contrary to the Constitution’s vesting of the power to elect Representatives in “the People.” U.S. Const. art. I, § 2," and to disfavor a class of candidates and dictate the outcome of an election as prohibited by  art. I §4.

In a brief separate opinion, concurring in part and dissenting in part, District Judge Osteen, Jr., disagreed as the standard for proving intent in Equal Protection but concluded the standard was met; disagreed on the merits of the First Amendment claim; and agreed that there was a violation of Article I.

Judge Wynn's opinion gave North Carolina until January 29 to submit a new plan to the Court, but one wonders if North Carolina will also be aggressively pursuing remedies at the United States Supreme Court, especially given Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone. 

 

January 9, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Daily Read: The Meme of Voter Fraud

With the termination by Executive Order of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, also known as the "voter fraud commission," it's a good time to (re)read Atiba Ellis's article from 2014, The Meme of Voter Fraud.

Professor Ellis argues that "meme theory" offers a useful methodology to analyze the origins, evolution, and persistence of voter fraud rhetoric. For Ellis, a "meme" is not only a cute internet cat photo with changing words, but an "idea that spreads from person to person within a culture and replicates along with other ideas to form an ideology or worldview." The meme of "voter fraud" on his account is the latest iteration of the ideology that some people are deemed “unworthy” of the vote.

Ellis addressed the relevancy of the meme of voter fraud as it was being deployed by Trump shortly after the 2016 election (and which led to the creation of the commission).  Ellis wrote that the problem with Trump's use of the voter fraud meme is that

2674975700000578-2985770-image-m-45_1425868236814It seeks to rig our thinking about democracy. Because a meme persuades through appeal and not logic, makes facts completely irrelevant when the story is too good. This doesn’t matter much with cat videos, but Mr. Trump’s rigged election meme are dangerous because they detach us from facts as our basis for making real-world decisions.

To believe that millions of certain voters are illegitimate simply because someone says so is to trade in an ideology of exclusion. America did this for the majority of its history with the effect of excluding women, African Americans, and naturalized immigrants in favor of property-holding white men.

While the termination of the presidential commission might be seen as a rejection of the voter fraud meme, the official Statement of the Press Secretary is less than a disavowal:

Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry. Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission, and he has asked the Department of Homeland Security to review its initial findings and determine next courses of action.

This claim of "substantial evidence" seems to indicate that meme persists.

UPDATE: The President's tweets, which arguably have the status of official statements, confirm that the meme of voter fraud has not been abandoned:

 

January 3, 2018 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Executive Authority, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Third Circuit Remands County-Based Signature Requirements for Political Parties to Appear on Ballot

In its opinion in Constitution Party v. Cortes, a Third Circuit panel found fault with the district judge's injunction imposing on the Constitution Party, as well as the other plaintiff small political parties - - - known in the opinion as the Aspiring Parties - - - a requirement of county-based signature-gathering requirements.  The case arose out of a challenge to Pennsylvania's scheme for allowing small parties on the ballot. After finding this previous scheme unconstitutional, the district judge considered remedies, eventually adopting the remedy proposed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Under this scheme, the aspiring parties candidates could be placed on the ballot provided that they gather a certain number of signatures and that these signatures be from 10 different counties (or from 5 counties for some offices) of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.

Pennsylvania-counties-map

The issue was whether these county-requirements were unconstitutional vote dilution under the Equal Protection Clause.

Relying on Reynolds v. Sims (1964) and Gray v. Sanders (1963), the panel acknowledged that geographical inequalities in state voting violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, a principle that was extended to signature-gathering requirements for ballot placement in Moore v. Ogilive (1969).  The test, from the First Amendment case of  Anderson v. Celebrezze (1983), which the court stated applied also to the equal protection context, required the court to

 first consider the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected . . . that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate. It then must identify and evaluate the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule. In passing judgment, the Court must not only determine the legitimacy and strength of each of those interests; it also must consider the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiff’ s rights. Only after weighing all these factors is the reviewing court in a position to decide whether the challenged provision is unconstitutional.

The court noted that county-based signature-gathering requirements have "fared poorly" under the Anderson doctrine and discussed cases, it was nevertheless true that in some instances these requirements survived. The focus should be on the "real-world impact" of the voting restrictions.  And it is a fact-intensive one. 

Looking at the district judge's order, which had been fashioned under significant time pressure before an upcoming election, the Third Circuit panel found the absence of fact-finding fatal.  It therefore vacated and remanded the case, noting that the district judge could certainly issue the same or a similar injunction if it engaged in a fact-intensive analysis and found the restrictions constitutional under Anderson.

On remand, it may be difficult for the parties to muster the kind of evidence that would be necessary to demonstrate how the county-specific requirement for signatures satisfy precise state interests that are not undermined by vote dilution.

 

December 13, 2017 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Ninth Circuit Upholds Montanta Limit on Judicial Campaign Speech

In its opinion  in French v. Jones, a unanimous Ninth Circuit panel rejected a First Amendment challenge to a Montana judicial ethics rule restricting political endorsements in campaigns.

Montana Code of Judicial Conduct 4.1(A)(7) prohibits judicial candidates from seeking, accepting, or using endorsements from a political party/organization or partisan candidate, although it does allow political parties to endorse and even provide funds to judicial candidates.  Affirming the district judge and upholding the provision's constitutionality, the Ninth Circuit opinion by Judge Jay Bybee surveys the United States Supreme Court's two opinions on the First Amendment and judicial campaign ethics - - - Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (2002) and Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar (2015) - - - and notes that although the Supreme Court has provided "mixed guidance," the "clear shift in favor of state regulation" and "palpable change" in Williams-Yulee renders the arguments of the challengers unavailing.

220px-John_Mellor_Vanity_Fair_24_May_1873After a rehearsal of the cases, including a Ninth Circuit en banc decision, Judge Bybee applied strict scrutiny.  Montana's compelling governmental interest of "actual and perceived judicial impartiality" had been accepted in Williams-Yulee. The second interest in a "structurally independent judiciary" is also evaluated, with a supporting citation to The Federalist No. 78, and implicitly found to be even "more compelling." The major challenge, however, was that the judicial canon was not narrowly tailored because it was "fatally underinclusive." On this issue, Judge Bybee's opinion again relied on the change wrought by Williams-Yulee, quoting language disapproving on underinclusiveness.  More specifically, the court found that the interest in judicial independence was differently served by endorsements from political parties (whose use was prohibited by the canon) than by endorsements by interest groups. Likewise, the court found that permitting judicial candidates to solicit and use money from political parties was unpersuasive because endorsements are more public, although the information regarding contributions is also available to the public. 

Additionally, the court rejected the equation between the announcement prohibition in White, which was found unconstitutional, and the political party endorsement prohibition at issue.  Party endorsement is not simply "shorthand" for views. "An endorsement is a thing of value: it may attract voters' attention, jumpstart a campaign, give assurance that the candidate has been vetted, or provide legitimacy to an unknown candidate . . ."

The court also rejected the argument that Montana did not show political endorsements cause harm noting that such an argument could lead to a finding that Montana's choice of nonpartisan judicial elections was itself unconstitutional.  Moreover, the elimination of judicial elections entirely is not a less restrictive means consistent with Williams-Yulee.

Although Williams-Yulee was a closely divided case and its reasoning not entirely clear, it provides the basis on which courts are upholding judicial campaigning restrictions.

December 9, 2017 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, December 8, 2017

SCOTUS Takes on (Another) Partisan Gerrymandering Case

 Adding to its docket on the issue of partisan gerrymandering, the Court agreed to hear the merits of Benisek v. Lamone, regarding Maryland's redistricting law, decided by a three judge court in August 2017.

Recall that the Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford on October 3, 2017.  In Gill, arising in Wisconsin, the question of whether partisan gerrymandering is best analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause or under the First Amendment inflected the oral arguments. 

The three judge court opinion in Benisek deciding on the application of a preliminary injunction was divided. A majority of the  found that the case essentially rejected the challengers' arguments, seemingly finding that the claims were not justiable and that they did not have merit, but ultimately resting on a decision that the matter should be not be decided pending the outcome in Gill v. Whitford and thus denying the motion for preliminary injunction.  In an extensive dissenting opinion, Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer makes a compelling argument that the redistricting of Maryland's Sixth District by the Democratic leadership diluted the votes of Republicans. Judge Niemeyer advanced a First Amendment standard to redressing unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering as:

 (1) “those responsible for the map redrew the lines of his district with the specific intent to impose a burden on him and similarly situated citizens because of how they voted or the political party with which they were affiliated,”
(2) “the challenged map diluted the votes of the targeted citizens to such a degree that it resulted in a tangible and concrete adverse effect,” and
(3) “the mapmakers’ intent to burden a particular group of voters by reason of their views” was a but-for cause of the “adverse impact.”

Applying that standard, Judge Niemeyer would have found it clearly violated by the Sixth District.

United_States_House_of_Representatives _Maryland_District_6_map

[image via]

While both the majority and Judge Niemeyer's dissent agree that partisan gerrymandering is "noxious" and destructive, the panel clearly divides on what the judiciary can or should do.  For Niemeyer, judicial abdication "would have the most troubling consequences":

If there were no limits on the government’s ability to draw district lines for political purposes, a state might well abandon geographical districts altogether so as to minimize the disfavored party’s effectiveness. In Maryland, where roughly 60% of the voters are Democrats and 40% Republicans, the Democrats could create eight safe congressional districts by assigning to each district six Democrats for every four Republicans, regardless of the voters’ geographical location. In a similar vein, a Republican government faced with these same voters could create a map in which two districts consisted entirely of Democrats, leaving six that would be 53% Republican. Such a paradigm would be strange by any standard. A congressman elected in such a system could have constituents in Baltimore City, others in Garrett County, and yet others in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., preventing him from representing any of his constituents effectively. Similarly, members of a single household could be assigned to different congressional districts, and neighbors would be denied the ability to mobilize politically. Such partisan gerrymandering, at its extreme, would disrupt the “very essence of districting,” which “is to produce a different ... result than would be reached with elections at large, in which the winning party would take 100% of the legislative seats.” [citing Gaffney v. Cummings (1973)].

The role that Benisek will play as an addition to Gill v. Whitford in the Court's consideration of partisan gerrymandering is unclear, but several differences between the cases might be worth noting.  First, Benisek centers the First Amendment analysis rather than the Equal Protection Clause or a combination.  Second, Benisek involves one district within the state rather than the state as a whole.  And third, the redistricting in Maryland involved in Benisek is the Democratic party in power, while the redistricting in Wisconsin in Gill v. Whitford is the Republican party in power.  What, if any, difference these differences may ultimately make - - - and whether the Court will render the decisions of these cases close together - - - remains to be determined.

 

 

December 8, 2017 in Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Daily Read: American Sociological Ass'n Takes Issue With CJ Roberts

 In an open letter to Chief Justice Roberts, the President of the American Sociological Association, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, responded to the Roberts's comment during the Gill v. Whitford oral argument that social science data regarding partisan gerrymandering was "sociological gobbledygook." 

After noting that during the oral argument "Justices Kagan and Sotomayor subsequently expressed concern about your statement and spoke to the value of social science measures," President Bonilla-Silva continued:

In an era when facts are often dismissed as “fake news,” we are particularly concerned about a person of your stature suggesting to the public that scientific measurement is not valid or reliable and that expertise should not be trusted.  What you call “gobbledygook” is rigorous and empirical.  The following are just a few examples of the contributions of sociological research to American society that our members offered in response to your comment:

  • Clear evidence that separate is not equal
  • Early algorithms for detecting credit card fraud
  • Mapped connections between racism and physiologic stress response
  • Network analysis to identify and thwart terror structures and capture terrorists
  • Pay grades and reward systems that improve retention among enlisted soldiers
  • Modern public opinion polling
  • Evidence of gender discrimination in the workplace
  • Understanding of the family factors that impact outcomes for children
  • Guidance for police in defusing high-risk encounters
  • Strategies for combatting the public health challenge of drug abuse

ExplorePresident Bonilla-Silva also offered additional training for Chief Justice Roberts:

Should you be interested in enhancing your education in this area, we would be glad to put together a group of nationally and internationally renowned sociologists to meet with you and your staff. Given the important ways in which sociological data can and has informed thoughtful decision-making from the bench, such time would be well spent.

Indeed, during the oral argument Chief Justice Roberts did comment that his "goobledygook" perspective might be attributable to "simply my educational background." 

There has not yet been a reported response from the Chief Justice.

October 11, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Supreme Court (US), Teaching Tips, Theory | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Daily Read: Redistricting and Gerrymandering Primer

 Trying to get up to speed on the law of redistricting and gerrymandering after the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford

A terrific source is the Congressional Research Service Report, Congressional Redistricting Law: Background and Recent Court Rulings, by L. Paige Whitaker, from March 2017. 

Like all CRS reports, this one is relatively brief (23 pages) and written for an intelligent but not necessarily fully conversant audience. The discussion of partisan gerrymandering on pages 13-16 provides an excellent background to Whitford, including a discussion of Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004) and Justice Kennedy's pivotal role:

The deciding vote in Vieth, Justice Kennedy, concluded that while the claims presented in that case were not justiciable, he “would not foreclose all possibility of judicial relief if some limited and precise rationale were found to correct an established violation of the Constitution in some redistricting cases.” Further, Justice Kennedy observed, that while the appellants in this case had relied on the Equal Protection Clause as the source of their substantive right and basis for relief, the complaint also alleged a violation of their First Amendment rights. According to Justice Kennedy, the First Amendment may be a more relevant constitutional provision in future cases that claim unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering because such claims “involve the First Amendment interest of not burdening or penalizing citizens because of their participation in the electoral process, their voting history, their association with a political party, or their expression of political views.” In contrast, Justice Kennedy noted, an analysis under the Equal Protection Clause emphasizes the permissibility of a redistricting plan’s classifications. When race is involved, Justice Kennedy reasoned, examining such classifications is appropriate because classifying by race “is almost never permissible.” However, when the issue before a court is whether a generally permissible classification—political party association—has been used for an impermissible purpose, the question turns on whether the classification imposed an unlawful burden, Justice Kennedy maintained. Therefore, he concluded that an analysis under the First Amendment “may offer a sounder and more prudential basis for intervention” by concentrating on whether a redistricting plan “burdens the representational rights of the complaining party’s voters for reasons of ideology, beliefs, or political association.”

[footnotes omitted].  The CRS Report also has a great discussion of the three-judge court decision in Gill v. Whitaker.

In general, the report "analyzes key Supreme Court and lower court redistricting decisions addressing four general topics":

(1) the constitutional requirement of population equality among districts;

(2) the intersection between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause; (although the Report was produced before the Court's decision in Cooper v. Harris  it discusses the then-pending case);

(3) the justiciability of partisan gerrymandering; and

(4) the constitutionality of state ballot initiatives providing for redistricting by independent commissions.

An objective and great resource for anyone working on these issues in constitutional law.

 

October 4, 2017 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

SCOTUS Hears Arguments on Constitutionality of Partisan Gerrymandering

 In oral arguments today in Gill v. Whitford,  the United States Supreme Court confronted the constitutionality of gerrymandering on the basis of political party.

Recall that in an extensive opinion the three-judge court concluded that Wisconsin's "gerrymandering" of districts was unconstitutional, rejecting the notion that the Equal Protection Clause's application "must be limited to situations where the dilution is based on classifications such as race and population." Instead, the three-judge court ruled that the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause, together, "prohibit a redistricting scheme which (1) is intended to place a severe impediment on the effectiveness of the votes of individual citizens on the basis of their political affiliation, (2) has that effect, and (3) cannot be justified on other, legitimate legislative grounds."

The question of whether the issue was one of Equal Protection or First Amendment permeated the oral argument, in part because of the standing hurdle, with Justice Kennedy posing the initial question asking the attorney for Wisconsin (and Gill) to assume that the Court had "decided that this is a First Amendment issue, not an equal protection issue."  Later Justice Kennedy asked the attorney for the Wisconsin State Senate as amici curiae who had been allotted time in oral argument the question in a more straightforward manner: "Is there an equal protection violation or First Amendment violation?" assuming standing.  In the argument for the challengers to the state redistricting scheme, the attorney for the appellees Paul Smith seemed to lean toward the First Amendment regarding standing, but also stated there was not "anything unusual about using the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment to regulate the abusive management of state elections by state government."

How a court would regulate (or even determine) whether state government's regulation was "abusive" is one of the central questions, no matter the doctrinal frame. Are there manageable judicial standards?  Does the "efficiency gap" [EG] provide those standards? Justice Breyer sought to provide a framework early in the argument:

So I'd have step one.  The judge says,Was there one party control of the redistricting?  If the answer to that is no, say there was a bipartisan commission, end of case. Okay?

Step two, is there partisan asymmetry? In other words, does the map treat the political parties differently?  And a good evidence of that is a party that got 48 percent of the vote got a majority of the legislature. Other evidence of that is what they call the EG,  which is not quite so complicated as the opposition makes it think.  Okay?  In other words, you look to see. 


Question 3, is -- is there going to be persistent asymmetry over a range of votes? That is to say one party, A, gets 48 percent, 49 percent, 50 percent, 51, that's sort of the S-curve shows you that, you know, whether there is or is not.  And there has to be some.

And if there is, you say is this an extreme outlier in respect to asymmetry? And then, if all those -- the test flunks all those things, you say is there any justification, was there any other motive, was there any other justification?

Now, I suspect that that's manageable.

6a00d8341bfae553ef01bb09c9853b970d-800wiJustice Gorsuch returned to Breyer's standards later in the argument, essentially asking counsel for the challengers what the limiting principle would be so that every district would not be subject to litigation. 

Justice Kagan also sought a limiting principle, especially since the redistricting map at issue was so problematical.  Yet Justice Kagan contended that the science of the redistricting was a science - - - and settled and understandable - - - although Chief Justice Roberts referred to the EG as "sociological gobbledygook." The Chief Justice also noted that the EG "doesn't sound like language in the Constitution," and that the "intelligent man on the street" would view the Court as being political - - - "the Supreme Court preferred the Democrats over the Republicans" - - - which would cause "serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this Court."

For Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor, the central concern seemed to be protecting what Ginsburg called "the precious right to vote" and what Sotomayor criticized as "stacking the deck," asking about the political value of gerrymandering at all. Justice Sotomayor also described the repeated map-making and redrawing of districts until the Wisconsin map was as partisan as it could possibly be.  She asked the attorney for Wisconsin why the legislators didn't use one of the earlier maps. He answered: "Because there was no constitutional requirement that they do so."  She responded: "That's the point."

As always, it is unclear from oral argument what the Court might do, but there did seem to be recognition of the problem of gerrymandering and the possibility of manageable standards with a limiting principle for many of the Justices.

 [image via] 

 

October 3, 2017 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Federal Judge Upholds New York's Prohibition of Ballot Selfies or Polling Site Photographs Against First Amendment Challenge

 In his opinion in Silberberg v. Board of Elections of New York, Senior District Judge P. Kevin Castel upheld the constitutionality of two New York provisions restricting photographs related to elections.  N.Y. Election Law §17-130(10) makes it a misdemeanor to show one's ballot after it has been prepared for voting to any person and has been interpreted to prohibit the taking and posting on social media of so-called "ballot selfies." Less centrally, the New York City Board of Elections had a policy that prohibits photography at polling sites. The challengers argued that both of these provisions infringed on their First Amendment rights.

Recall that Judge Castel had previously denied a motion for preliminary injunction against the ballot-selfie statute.  However, Castel's main rationale was based on the preliminary injunction standards, and heavily weighed the age of the statute (enacted in 1890) against the timing of the lawsuit (13 days before the election).

In the present opinion, Judge Castel, after a bench trial, more carefully analyzed the First Amendment claims. On the N.Y. Election Law §17-130(10) challenge, he concluded that despite the age of the statute, it plain language, underlying purpose, and likely legislative intent all supported the interpretation that the statute did prohibit ballot-selfies.  He then concluded that the statute did restrict political speech and was thus subject to strict scrutiny.

Judge Castel relied in large part on Burson v. Freeman (1992) in which the Court upheld a prohibition of campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place, noting that the Tennessee statute at issue in Burson was also first enacted in 1890 and "intended to combat the same evils that the 1890 New York statute was intended to combat; vote buying and voter intimidation." Judge Castel found that both of these interests were compelling as well as actual.  Distinguishing the recent First Circuit decision in Rideout v. Gardner, Judge Castel reasoned:

Plaintiffs urge this Court to follow Rideout v. Gardner, where the First Circuit, in upholding the district court’s injunction against the enforcement of a New Hampshire statute updated in 2014 to specifically prohibit the sharing via social media of a digital photograph of a marked ballot, found that the statute did not address an “actual problem in need of solving.”  In that case, decided on summary judgment, virtually no specific evidence was presented regarding vote buying or voter intimidation in New Hampshire. In the present case, ample evidence has been presented regarding vote buying and voter intimidation in New York, both historic and contemporary. And New Hampshire is not New York City. New York elections were bought and sold for decades before the introduction of the Australian ballot reforms. The statute was an appropriate response to the political corruption in New York in 1890 and is a valid measure today to prevent that history from repeating itself.

 [citations omitted]

Miss_E._S._O'Brien_putting_her_vote_into_the_box_at_the_City_Hall_Brisbane_1947_(27895206401)Judge Castel also found the criminalization was narrowly tailored, again relying in large part on Burson. Castel also noted that the challengers had put forth no acceptable alternative and also discussed the issue of "social coercion," reasoning that employers and other organizations could use the ballot selfie to "enforce political orthodoxy."

As an alternative ground, Judge Castel concluded that the election statute was not necessarily subject to strict scrutiny because although it was a content-based restriction, it occurred in a non-public forum. The polling site was not a public forum: the sites are "opened by the government only for the specific purpose of enabling voters to cast ballots and are not historically open for public debate or speech."  Relatedly, the ballot itself is not a public forum, relying on cases such as Burdick v. Takushi (1992). Judge Castel then found that the restrictions were "reasonable."

In a few pages, Judge Castel dispatched the challenge to the City's unwritten policy of prohibiting photography at polling places.  Judge Castel found this 20 year old policy was content-neutral and again relied on the finding that the polling sites were not public fora. However, even if the sites were public fora, there were ample alternative means for political expression.

Judge Castel therefor rendered final judgment for the government defendants, allowing for appeal to the Second Circuit.  Given the First Circuit's opinion in Rideout with a contrary result, this may be the next step to a circuit split on the issue of ballot selfies.

[image via]

September 28, 2017 in Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Seventh Circuit Strikes Illinois's Full-Slate Ballot Access Requirement

The Seventh Circuit ruled on Friday that Illinois's requirement that a new political party field candidates for all offices on the ballot in the relevant political subdivision violated the First Amendment. (H/t Aggie Baumert.) The ruling strikes the full-slate requirement for new parties, but leaves in place a signature requirement for them.

The case tested Illinois's requirement that a "new" political party field candidates for every office on the ballot in the political subdivision where it wishes to compete. (A "new" political party is one that's not (yet) "established" based on performance in prior elections.) New parties also have to obtain a minimum number of signatures on nominating petitions.

These rules meant that when the Libertarian Party sought to put up a candidate for Kane County auditor, it had to get the signatures, and it also had to put up candidates for circuit clerk, recorder, prosecutor, coroner, board chairman, and school superintendent.

The Party sued, arguing that the full-slate requirement (but not the signature requirement) violated the First Amendment.

The Seventh Circuit agreed. The court ruled first that the Party had standing, even though it didn't get enough signatures (and therefore couldn't get on the ballot even if it did field a full slate). The court explained that the Party's injury wasn't not getting on the ballot; it was the burden on its free association:

It isn't simply that the Party couldn't run its candidate for county auditor in the 2012 election. It's that Illinois law imposes a burdensome condition on the Party's exercise of its right of political association; that is, the Party's injury is its inability to access the ballot unless it fields a full slate of candidates. That requirement persists and stands as an ongoing obstacle to ballot access.

The court went on to rule that the full-slate requirement "severely burdens the First Amendment rights of minor parties, their members, and voters," thus triggering strict scrutiny. And under strict scrutiny, the court said that the full-slate requirement simply didn't meet the state's interests promoting political stability, avoiding overcrowded ballots, and preventing voter confusion--and, indeed, cut against those interests:

By creating unwanted candidacies, the requirement increases political instability, ballot overcrowding, and voter confusion. . . . Whatever its aim, the requirement forces a minor party to field unserious candidates as a condition of nominating a truly committed candidate. . . .

In reality, then, the full-slate requirement does not ensure that only parties with a modicum of support reach the ballot. Instead it ensures that the only minor parties on the ballot are those that have strong public support or are willing and able to field enough frivolous "candidates" to comply with the law.

September 26, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Alito Stays Three-Judge Court Ruling on Texas Redistricting Violations

 In an exceedingly brief Order signed only by Associate Justice Samuel Alito, the United States Supreme Court in Abbott v. Perez, stated:

UPON CONSIDERATION of the application of counsel for the applicants,

IT IS ORDERED that the order of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas, case No. SA-11-CV-360, entered August 15, 2017, is hereby stayed pending receipt of a response, due on or before Tuesday, September 5, 2017, by 3 p.m., and further order of the undersigned or of the Court.

Recall that the three-judge court, after an extensive opinion, ultimately 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." 

As we discussed, the extensive opinion by the three judge court found constitutional violations, including intentional discrimination, but also rejected several of the challengers' claims.

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[image: Caricature of Associate Justice Alito by Donkey Hotey via ]

 

August 29, 2017 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Fifth Circuit Says Group Has Standing, Strikes Texas Voter-Interpreter Restriction

The Fifth Circuit ruled this week that an organization had standing to challenge Texas's restriction on a voter's use of an interpreter under the Voting Rights Act. But at the same time, the court said that the district court's injunction was too broad. The ruling, a victory for the plaintiffs, nevertheless sends the case back to the district court for a more narrowly tailored injunction.

The case arose when the Organization for Chinese Americans stepped-in to a lawsuit challenging Texas's law that limits a non-English-speaking voter's use of an interpreter at the polls. Texas law says that such a voter can use an interpreter "outside the ballot box," but that the interpreter must "be a registered voter of the county in which the voter needing the interpreter resides." OCA argued that the provision violated Section 208 of the VRA, which says that "[a]ny voter who requires assistance to vote by reason of blindness, disability, or inability to read or write may be given assistance by a person of the voter's choice, other than the voter's employer or agent of that employer or officer or agent of the voter's union."

The court ruled that OCA had organizational standing, because, as an educational organization, it had to ramp up its educational efforts in response to Texas's law. In particular,

OCA calibrated its outreach efforts to spend extra time and money educating its members about these Texas provisions and how to avoid their negative effects. Specifically, OCA employees and volunteers must carefully explain to those it contacts, in the language they understand, that when they bring an interpreter to a Texas polling location, the interpreter must identify his or herself as an "assistor" rather than as an "interpreter" to avoid being turned away under Texas law . . . .

The court went on to reject Texas's claim of sovereign immunity, because OCA sought only declaratory and injunctive relief (and not monetary damages).

On the merits, the court concluded that the Texas provision violated Section 208 of the VRA, but that the district court went too far in enjoining "any provision of its Election Code to the extent it is inconsistent with the VRA." The court remanded the case for a more narrowly tailored injunction.

August 19, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Three Judge Court Finds Fault with Texas Redistricting Plan

 In its extensive and detailed opinion in Perez v. Abbott, a three judge court found problems including intentional racial discrimination in some aspects of Plan C235, the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2013.

Authored by United States District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, joined by Chief Judge for the Western District of Texas District Judge Garcia, and Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, the panel opinion is another episode in the ongoing litigation regarding redistricting in Texas.  The opinion itself is an interlocutory order, with the remedial phase to follow.  Additionally, as in most redistricting litigation, there is a mix of determinations under the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause.

Perhaps one of the more interesting issues in the case involves the court's findings regarding intentional discrimination. The court considered the Shaw v. Reno racial gerrymandering claims elaborating on the strict scrutiny standard if racial classifications could be proven.The court rejected the state's position that the discriminatory intent inquiry was limited to the drawing of district lines in 2013, but relying on Fifth Circuit precedent found that the challengers could demonstrate "either through direct or circumstantial evidence that the government body adopted the electoral scheme with a discriminatory purpose, that the body maintained the scheme with discriminatory purpose, or that the system furthered pre-existing intentional discrimination." The court stated:

The decision to adopt the interim plans was not a change of heart concerning the validity of any of Plaintiffs’ claims . . . . {in previous litigation} and was not an attempt to adopt plans that fully complied with the VRA and the Constitution—it was a litigation strategy designed to insulate the 2011 or 2013 plans from further challenge, regardless of their legal infirmities. The letter from then-Attorney General Abbott to Speaker Joe Straus makes the strategy clear: Abbott advised that the “best way to avoid further intervention from federal judges in the Texas redistricting plans” and “insulate the State’s redistricting plans from further legal challenge” was to adopt the interim maps. Thus, Defendants sought to avoid any liability for the 2011 plans by arguing that they were moot, and sought to ensure that any legal infirmities that remained in the 2013 plans were immune from any intentional discrimination and Shaw-type racial gerrymandering claims.

The court did reject some of the challengers other claims, although finding that MALC (a Latino legislative caucus of Texas members in the House of Representatives) had standing, it rejected the claim that there was intentional discrimination in a specific "Latino opportunity district."

The court's summary of its more than 100 page opinion is useful:

  • In Part II, the Court concludes that the racially discriminatory intent and effects that it previously found in the 2011 plans carry over into the 2013 plans where those district lines remain unchanged. The discriminatory taint was not removed by the Legislature’s enactment of the Court’s interim plans, because the Legislature engaged in no deliberative process to remove any such taint, and in fact intended any such taint to be maintained but be safe from remedy. The Legislature in 2013 intentionally furthered and continued the existing discrimination in the plans.
  • In Part IIIA, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs’ § 2 results claims in the DFW {Dallas-Fort Worth} area fail for lack of proof of African-American and Hispanic cohesion.
  • In Part IIIB, the Court finds that the intentional discrimination found in DFW in Plan C185 is remedied in Plan C235, and that Plaintiffs failed to prove that any alleged cracking and packing that remains in DFW was intentionally dilutive.
  • In Part IV, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs’ § 2 results claims in the Houston area fail for lack of proof of African-American and Hispanic cohesion.
  • In Part V, the Court finds that CD23 is a Latino opportunity district and there is no evidence of intentional discrimination/dilution.
  • In Part VI, the Court concludes that the Plan C235 configurations of CD35 and Nueces County/CD27 violate § 2 and the Fourteenth Amendment. These statutory and constitutional violations must be remedied by either the Texas Legislature or this Court.

 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."

Map

 

UPDATE: Stay

August 15, 2017 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)