Friday, September 11, 2015

Seventh Circuit Strikes Partisan Balance Statute in Judicial Elections

The Seventh Circuit this week struck an Indiana law election law that ensured "partisan balance" on the Marion Superior Court, in Marion County. Curiously (and tellingly), the law only applied to judicial elections in Marion County (the home of Indianapolis); more regular judicial election rules (or, in two counties, merit selection) applied in the rest of the state.

Here's how it worked. Each major party conducted a primary election in which each party selected a number of candidates that equaled half the open seats on the court in the general election. (If there were 16 open seats, the Republicans would put up 8 candidates, and the Dems would put up 8.) Then, in the general election, all primary winners would win a seat. The system virtually ensured an equal divide among the judges on the court. ("Virtually," because there was a remote chance that a minor-party candidate or independent could get elected.)

Common Cause challenged the law, arguing that it infringed on the right to vote. (What good is your vote in the general, if you can't select among competing candidates?) The court agreed.

The court applied the Burdick/Anderson balancing test and ruled that the infringement on the right to vote outweighed the state's interests. On the infringement side of the balance, the court simply noted that the system denied voters any choice in the general election--a "severe" burden on the right to vote:

the Statute removes electoral choice and denies voters any effective voice or ability to choose between candidates of the two major parties. In fact, absent a possible third party or independent candidate on the ballot [a remote chance, by the way--ed.], the general election is guaranteed to be uncontested, rendering any vote meaningless because there is no choice to be made.

On the state's interests side of the balance, the court rejected the claimed interest in ensuring fair political representation and impartiality, because that interest doesn't really apply to judicial elections (where judges make independent decisions in their own independent courtrooms, not like a legislature, where the body makes a decision as a whole), and because the state had other ways of achieving this interest (by enforcing standards of judicial conduct, e.g.). The court said that the state's interests in saving money and ensuring stability and public confidence could be achieved in other ways, too, and that in any event they were outweighed by the severe restriction on the right to vote.

The ruling means that the state needs to come up with a different way to elect Marion County judges before the next election (in 2018). The ruling is a victory for the right to vote, but it's a victory for judicial independence, too, given that this strange system applied only to Marion County, suggesting a legislative power-play against the court system in the state's capital and largest city.

The state hasn't said whether it will seek en banc review or cert.

September 11, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fundamental Rights, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

D.C. Circuit Denies Attorneys' Fees to Shelby County

The D.C. Circuit today denied attorneys' fees to Shelby County growing out of its successful challenge to the coverage formula for preclearance in the Voting Rights Act. But more importantly: A majority on the panel rejected Shelby County's states' rights interpretation of the VRA.

The case arose out of Shelby County's motion for attorneys' fees after the Supreme Court struck Section 4 of the VRA, the coverage formula for preclearance, in Shelby County v. Holder. The VRA fee-shifting provision says,

In any action or proceeding to enforce the voting guarantees of the [F]ourteenth or [F]ifteenth [A]mendment, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable [attorneys'] fee, reasonable expert fees, and other reasonable litigation expenses as part of the costs.

But to win attorneys' fees, Shelby County had to show (1) that it was eligible for fees under the provision and (2) that it was entitled to them under Newman v. Piggie Park.

All three on the panel agreed that Shelby County wasn't entitled under Piggie Park. That's because "Shelby County's lawsuit did not facilitate enforcement of the VRA; it made enforcing the VRA's preclearance regime impossible." "Shelby County's argument boils down to the proposition that Congress introduced the fee-shifting provision into the VRA in 1975 with the express goal of inducing a private party to bring a lawsuit to neuter the Act's central tool. But that makes no sense." (Emphasis in original.) That was enough to deny attorneys' fees.

But that's also where the case gets interesting. On the eligibility prong, Shelby County argued that it was eligible for fees under the statute, because it prevailed in an action to enforce the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and that these guarantees include "the structural rights of the states." That last part is a bold departure from the plain language of the amendments and any cases interpreting them; it assumes that the amendments contain some (unenumerated) version of states' rights, which, in turn, could limit the amendments' protection of individual voting rights.

The court left that question open. Judge Griffith, writing for the court, dodged it by relying only on the Piggie Park prong. Judge Silberman, in concurrence, seemed (more or less) to agree (at least on this point). Only Judge Tatel specifically took on Shelby County's reading. Judge Tatel wrote that the question was simple: "Obviously, neither of these [amendments] includes any guarantees of state autonomy over voting. . . . The two Amendments thus 'guarantee' not state autonomy, but rather the right of citizens to vote, and they expressly guarantee that right against state interference."

The upshot is that the court appears to have left Shelby County's states' rights interpretation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments on the table, an open question. This means that the Supreme Court could step in and answer it--it Shelby County's favor. (And given the Court's states' rights approach in the original case, this seems like a possibility.)

Still, the court's reasoning on Piggie Park is extremely thorough, and seems written to insulate the ruling against Supreme Court reversal.


September 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Texas Rolls Dice, and Loses Attorneys' Fees in Voting Rights Case

The D.C. Circuit today upheld the district court's award of over a million dollars in attorneys fees to three intervenors in Texas's lawsuit seeking preclearance for its re-drawn legislative maps under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

The ruling is a significant victory for the intervenors in this complicated case that involved challenges to Texas's redistricting maps in two simultaneous lawsuits under two different provisions of the VRA, Supreme Court intervention, and the Shelby County case itself.

Recall that the Fifth Circuit rejected claims for attorneys' fees in the companion case out of San Antonio just last spring.

The case started when Texas re-drew its congressional and state legislative districts after the 2010 census. Texas sought preclearance in the D.C. District, while opponents of the new maps filed their own Section 2 claim in the Western District of Texas (the San Antonio case).

Because the preclearance suit was not resolved in time for the 2012 primaries and general election, the San Antonio court imposed interim maps. The D.C. district court then denied preclearance (to all three maps--congressional, and both state house maps), and Texas appealed to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Texas legislature adopted maps largely mirroring the San Antonio court's maps, and an intervenor moved the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal as moot.

The Supreme Court then issued Shelby County, striking the VRA's Section 4, the coverage formula, but preserving Section 5's preclearance requirement (although it had (and has) no effect without Section 4's coverage formula).

One day later, Governor Perry signed the legislature's plans into law.

The Supreme Court then vacated the D.C. district court's order denying preclearance and "remanded for further consideration in light of Shelby County v. Holder * * * and the suggestion of mootness" of one of the intervenor groups.

The district court dismissed the case, concluding that Texas's "claims were mooted by Shelby County and the adoption of superseding redistricting plans."

The internors filed for attorneys' fees, arguing that they were "prevailing parties," because the original district court denied preclearance and Texas re-drew its maps. Texas filed a three-page "Advisory" declaring that it was the prevailing party based on Shelby County and that it wouldn't respond to the intervenors' motions for attorneys' fees "unless directed to do so by the Court."

In short, the state said that Shelby County (a different case entirely, litigated by different parties, and involving issues (the constitutionality of the VRA, which was not at issue in the Texas preclearance case) alone meant that Texas prevailed in its preclearance case. But Texas did not respond to the intervenors' argument that Texas's repeal of its original maps, and the mootness it caused before the Supreme Court vacated the denial of preclearance, rendered them prevailing parties.

Texas's move was a gamble, especially in light of district rules saying that an opponent to a motion has to file an opposition and that the court could treat any argument not made as conceded. 

The district court rejected Texas's "Advisory" and ordered attorneys' fees. The D.C. Circuit today affirmed.

The D.C. Circuit held that Texas was wrong on its Shelby County claim--that Shelby County alone couldn't make Texas a prevailing party in its Section 5 case--and that under district rules Texas waived any argument that the intervenors didn't prevail by virtue of the district court's denial of preclearance and Texas altering its maps.

In other words, Texas's gamble in filing its "Advisory," and then again in not addressing the arguments in its opening brief on appeal, backfired.

The ruling upholds the district court's award of attorneys' fees to the Davis Intervenors ($466,680.36), the Gonzales Intervenors ($597,715.60) and the Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches ($32,374.05).

August 18, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Court Hands Victory to the People in Redistricting

The Supreme Court ruled in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that federal law and the Elections Clause permit the people of Arizona to create, by referendum, an independent redistricting commission and vest it with authority to redraw congressional districts.

Arizona voters designed the Commission to take redistricting authority away from the state legislature and put it in the hands of an independent authority. In validating the Commission, the Court handed a significant victory to the voters--the People themselves--as against the state legislature and its partisan gerrymandering. The ruling means that Arizona's independent commission stays in place and can continue its work redrawing congressional districts.

Here's our oral argument review.

The key dispute between the majority and dissent is how to cast the exercise of redistricting power through referendum: the majority says that the people themselves hold government power, and therefore hold "legislative" power under the Elections Clause to create an independent redistricting commission; the dissent says that only the legislature holds redistricting power under the Elections Clause.

Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court, joined by Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. She wrote that 2 U.S.C. Sec. 2a(c)--which provides that "[u]ntil a State is redistricted in the manner provided by the law thereof after any apportionment," it must follow federally prescribed redistricting procedures--permits redistricting by an independent commission created by voter referendum. She also wrote that the Elections Clause permits this. "The history and purpose of the Clause weigh heavily against [preclusion of the right of the people to create an independent redistricting commission], as does the animating principle of our Constitution that the people themselves are the originating source of all the powers of government."

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the principal dissent, joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito. He wrote that the text, structure, and history of the Elections Clause say that only "the legislature" can prescribe "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives."

Justices Scalia and Thomas each wrote their own dissents, each joined by the other.

June 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Politics and Apportionment at the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court could give Republicans another 8 seats in Congress, according to David Wasserman and Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight. They analyze the possible political impacts of Evenwel v. Abbott, the case testing how to measure population for compliance with one-person-one-vote. Plaintiffs in the case argue that states should be allowed to apportion seats based on where U.S. citizens over age 18 (the voting-eligible population) live, and not on where everyone, including minors and noncitizens, live. The Supreme Court noted jurisdiction earlier this week.

May 29, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ninth Circuit Upholds Arizona's Voter Registration Form for Party Preference

Before 2011, Arizona law required that voter registration forms include a blank space for the registrant’s party preference.  But a 2011 law required the voter registration form distributed by the Arizona Secretary of State to list the two largest parties (as measured by number of registered voters) on the form, as well as provide a blank line for “other party preferences.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 16-152(A)(5).

In response to the amendment, the Arizona Secretary of State revised box 14 on the Registration Form, and the opinion includes this illustration:


Arizona_registrationMinority parties Arizona Green Party and the Arizona Libertarian Party challenged the new law as violative of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  In its opinion in Arizona Libertarian Party v. Bennett, the Ninth Circuit upheld the statute as constitutional.

The panel majority opinion by Judge Tashima noted the intertwining of the equality and First Amendment claims:

“Restrictions on voting can burden equal protection rights as well as ‘interwoven strands of liberty’ protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments—namely, the ‘right of individuals to associate for the advancement of political beliefs, and the right of qualified voters, regardless of their political persuasion, to cast their votes effectively.’”

It stated that the party challenging the law bears “the initial burden of showing that [the state’s] ballot access requirements seriously restrict the availability of political opportunity" and that here any burden was de minimis.  The panel thus applied rational basis scrutiny which the new form easily passed.

Concurring, Judge McKeown argued that the rational basis review burden-shifting standards derived from Ninth Circuit precedent and which the majority applied were "inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s approach to analyzing voting rights challenges." Instead, the court should apply the balancing tests articulated in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) and reiterated in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (2008), although Judge McKeown acknowledged that the "semantic distinction between the balancing test and the rational basis standard" may make little difference in most cases.  Indeed, here Judge McKeown recognized that Arizona's asserted interests in reducing printing costs and easing administrative efficiency are “sufficiently weighty to justify” the speculative burden on the plaintiff minority parties' rights.


April 24, 2015 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 3, 2015

En Banc Ninth Circuit Rejects First Amendment Challenge to Ballot Initiative Sponsor Requirements

The en banc Ninth Circuit's opinion in Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition v. Norris  rejected First Amendment challenges to two requirements that the State of California and the City of Chula Vista, California, place on persons who wish to sponsor a local ballot measure: 

that the official proponent of a ballot measure be an elector, thereby disqualifying corporations and associations from holding that position; and

that the official proponent’s name appear on each section of the initiative petition that is circulated to voters for their signature.

Writing for the unanimous en banc court and affirming the district judge, Judge Reinhardt concluded that the provisions were "plainly constitutional."

image via

On the first provision, the court held that the requirement that an official proponent—a person seeking a unique position in a quintessentially legislative process—be an elector satisfied the First Amendment.  It concluded that

The plaintiffs seek a legislative power and, as they conceded at oral argument, many legislative and official political acts are properly reserved to members of the electorate. For example, corporations cannot vote.  Nor can they run for political office or be appointed to fill vacancies. Under California law, they cannot sign initiative petitions, sign candidate nominating papers, or introduce legislation,  The plaintiffs fail to provide any reason—and we find none—that the state and city may not similarly limit the exercise of the initiative power to members of the relevant political community: electors.

[citations omitted].  The Ninth Circuit rejected the challengers' appeal to Citizens United v. FEC (2010) as mandating strict scrutiny.  The challengers argued strict scrutiny was warranted because the California requirement is a direct ban on core political speech;  bans disfavored speakers’ speech; and requires speech by proxy.  The Ninth Circuit opinion flatly stated that the challengers "are wrong."  While the initiative process involves core political speech, the ban is only directed at corporations being the "official proponent—a unique legislative position that may properly be reserved to members of the political community" and corporations can otherwise speak as much as they'd like.  As to corporations specifically, the court returned to the notion that corporations are distinct from natural persons, they do not have "the right to vote or to hold public office (or even to sit on the bench)" as the plaintiffs seemingly conceded.  "We accordingly refuse to extend Citizens United to grant to corporations and associations the right to hold a distinct, official role in the process of legislating, by initiative or otherwise."  Finally, the court summarily rejected the speech by proxy argument:

Under the plaintiffs’ view of Citizens United, the government could not exclude corporations or associations from any position available to human beings because to do so would impermissibly require speech by proxy—an assertion that is clearly untenable.

 The second requirement - - - mandating disclosure - - - was subject to "exacting scrutiny" rather than the higher standard of "strict scrutiny," in accordance with Citizens United.  The Ninth Circuit also relied heavily on Doe v. Reed (2010) in which the Court upheld disclosure and rejected a "right to be anonymous" when signing a ballot initiative petition. Here, the Ninth Circuit likewise upheld an interest in the integrity of the electoral process, citing Doe v. Reed, and also analyzed the informational interest. The Ninth Circuit also took a swipe at the sincerity of the anonymity argument:

It also bears noting, although we do not base our decision on it in any respect, that the interest of the proponents in anonymity is especially weak given the facts of the instant case. Both Kneebone and Breitfelder engaged in public activities advocating passage of Proposition G beyond the activities required of them as its official proponents, speaking at televised public meetings and having their names used in campaign materials provided to voters. Moreover, they explained in depositions that they did not really desire anonymity, but rather “wanted voters to know that the ‘correct’ sponsor of the ballot initiative was the Association of Builders and Contractors, Inc. and the Chula Vista Citizens for Jobs and Fair Competition.”

More doctrinally, the court concluded that the required "disclosure poses at the most a minimal burden on First Amendment rights."

 The decision is a clear rejection of an extension of Citizens United to any type of "corporate speech" and a clear adherence to the constitutionality of disclosure mandates in both Citizens United and Doe v. Reed.  And it should be clear that this unanimous opinion is not a good candidate for certiorari.

April 3, 2015 in Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

In Victory for Plaintiffs, Court Vacates, Remands Alabama Redistricting Case

The Supreme Court ruled today (5-4, with Justice Kennedy joining the four progressives in the majority) that the district court erred in its analysis of the plaintiffs' racial gerrymandering claims against the State of Alabama in the wake of the state's redistricting after the 2010 census. The ruling, a victory for the plaintiffs, sends the case back to the district court and allows the parties to introduce additional evidence to support their cases. It also gives the momentum to the plaintiffs on the merits. We previously posted on the case here.

The case now goes back to the district court for reconsideration in light of the four points below. Today's ruling also allows the plaintiffs to submit additional evidence in support of their claims, thus strengthening their district-specific discrimination claims, their claims that race was a predominate factor in drawing certain districts, and their argument that the state's use of race wasn't sufficiently tailored to comply with Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

Thus while today's ruling isn't an outright victory for the plaintiffs, it gives them the clear momentum on remand.

The case, Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, arose after Alabama redrew its legislative districts in a way that packed black voters into existing majority-minority districts. The state said it did this in order to avoid retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. (The state was then covered by Section 5, pre-Shelby County.) The plaintiffs challenged the move as a racial gerrymander. The three-judge district court rejected the challenge and ruled in favor of the state.

The Court (by Justice Breyer) vacated that ruling and remanded the case. Justice Breyer wrote that the district court made four legal mistakes:

1. The district court treated the plaintiffs' challenge to the redistricting as a whole, when it should have treated the challenge in specific electoral districts. The Court said that the district court concluded that because racial criteria had not predominated in redrawing some districts, racial criteria did not predominate "with respect to the State as an undifferentiated whole." This was in error. Moreover, the Court held that the plaintiffs didn't pitch their case only against the State as an undifferentiated whole (as the dissent argued); instead, the plaintiffs presented evidence to support a district-specific approach (even if they could have made this case "more clearly")--the approach that the district court should have used.

The Court ordered the district court to consider a district-specific approach on remand and allowed the plaintiffs to produce additional evidence to support their claims.

2. The district court erroneously held that the Alabama Democratic Conference lacked standing to make its claims against redistricting as a whole and as to four individual Senate districts. The district court said that the Conference lacked associational standing, because the record didn't clearly identify the districts where individual Conference members resided. The Court said this was wrong--and that the district court should have given the Conference an opportunity to show standing. The Court held that the recorded supported the fact that the Conference was state-wide, and had members in each of the state's majority-minority districts. The Court ordered the district court on remand to "reconsider the Conference's standing by permitting the Conference to file its list of members and permitting the State to respond, as appropriate."

3. The district court erred by holding in the alternative that the race was not a predominant factor in the creation of any individual district. The Court held that the district court "did not properly calculate 'predominance,'" because it concluded that the state considered race along with other race-neutral factors, so that the other factors outweighed the consideration of race. Justice Breyer explained:

In our view, however, an equal protection goal is not one factor among others to be weighed against the use of race to determine whether race "predominates." Rather, it is part of the redistricting background, taken as a given, when determining whether race, or other factors, predominate in a legislator's determination as to how equal population objections will be met."

In other words, the question whether race predominates compares a state's consideration of race with its consideration of race-neutral factors like compactness, contiguity, respect for political subdivisions or communities, incumbency protection, and political affiliation. But that comparison list does not include equal population. Equal population is different, because it's constitutionally required. "It is not a factor to be treated like other nonracial factors when a court determines whether race predominates over other, 'traditional' factors in the drawing of district boundaries." Instead, it's a "background rule against which redistricting takes place." And the district court was wrong to say otherwise.

Treating equal population as a background rule (and not one of the nonracial factors), the Court said that race might well have predominated in the drawing of certain districts. It remanded for reconsideration.

4. The district court wrongly concluded that even if race predominated, the gerrmandering claims failed because the redrawn districts satisfied strict scrutiny--that is, they are drawn to comply with Section 5 of the VRA. The Court said that the district court misperceived Section 5: It "does not require a covered jurisdiction to maintain a particular numerical minority" (as the district court held), but rather "requires the jurisdiction to maintain a minority's ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice."

Justice Scalia wrote the principal dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito. Justice Scalia said that the plaintiffs screwed up their case by alleging a state-wide violation--a claim the law doesn't allow--and that the majority wrongly gave them a do-over.

[A]llowing appellants a second bite at the apple invites lower courts similarly to depart from the premise that our is an adversarial system whenever they deem the stakes sufficiently high. Because I do not believe that Article III empowers this Court to act as standby counsel for sympathetic litigants, I dissent.

Justice Thomas wrote a separate dissent for himself alone to say how "our jurisprudence in this area continues to be infected with error." "We have somehow arrived at a place where the parties agree that Alabama's legislative districts should be fine-tuned to achieve some 'optimal' result with respect to black voting power; the only disagreement is about what percentage of blacks should be placed in those optimized districts. This is nothing more than a fight over the 'best' racial quota.'"


March 25, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Wisconsin Voter ID Stands, but not for Next Month's Election

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up Frank v. Walker, the challenge to the Wisconsin's voter ID law. In a dizzying and complicated case, the Seventh Circuit upheld the law, so yesterday's ruling means that Wisconsin's voter ID law stays in place. (Here's our latest post, when the Supreme Court last fall halted the Seventh Circuit's stay of an earlier district court ruling against voter ID, with links to earlier posts.)

Given the timing, the state said that it won't apply voter ID to its upcoming April 7 elections. But it will apply it to all future elections, including any special elections in 2015.

March 24, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

No Attorney Fees in Long-Running Texas Redistricting Case

The Fifth Circuit denied the plaintiffs' claims for attorneys fees in the 2012 case out of San Antonio over Texas redistricting. The ruling marks a bitter end for the plaintiffs in this long-running and complicated dispute that put the plaintiffs between two district courts, two different sections of the Voting Rights Act, the Texas legislature, and the Supreme Court--and stuck them with a $360,000 bill for . . . a victory. The ruling rewards Texas's foot-dragging through the preclearance process as two cases simultaneously worked their ways through the courts.

Recall that the plaintiffs sued Texas in the Western District of Texas over the legislature's redistricting plan. The plaintiffs argued that the plan violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause, and that it hadn't been precleared under Section 5. (The preclearance case was pending before a three-judge court in D.C.) The San Antonio court enjoined the legislature's redistricting plan because it hadn't been precleared and drew its own district maps.

The Supreme Court then stepped in and rejected the San Antonio court's maps, but gave the court another shot at drawing them. The San Antonio court redrew the maps according to the Supreme Court's new standard. Following the Supreme Court, the San Antonio court issued its new maps as "a result of preliminary determinations regarding the merits of the Section 2 and constitutional claims presented in this case, and application of the 'not insubstantial' standard for the Section 5 claims." (That "not insubstantial" standard said that the San Antonio court could only consider the Section 5 preclearance claim insofar as the plaintiffs' challenges in the D.C. court were "not insubstantial." But the merits of the Section 5 claim were reserved to the D.C. court (and not the San Antonio court).)

The D.C. court denied preclearance to the Texas legislature's maps. Texas appealed, but used the San Antonio court's plan as an interim plan for its 2012 elections.

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck the preclearance coverage formula in Shelby County and later vacated the D.C. court's judgment denying preclearance to the legislature's plan. At the same time, Governor Perry signed a bill repealing the legislature's plan and adopting the court's plan. The San Antonio district court dismissed the case (or what remained of it, the plaintiffs' Section 2 and constitutional claims).

This seems like a win for the plaintiffs. So why no attorney fees?

The Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs weren't "prevailing parties" under the fee-shifting statute. The court said that the plaintiffs couldn't have won their Section 5 claim at the San Antonio court, because only the D.C. court can rule on the merits of a Section 5 claim. And the Fifth Circuit said that the plaintiffs didn't win their Section 2 and constitutional claims at the San Antonio court, because the San Antonio court never evaluated them.

The Fifth Circuit suggested that the plaintiffs might have been "prevailing parties" under a "catalyst theory," by merely demonstrating that their lawsuit caused Texas to alter its conduct. But the Fifth Circuit noted that the Supreme Court rejected this approach in Buckhannon.


March 18, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Fourth Circuit Dismisses Challenges to Muni Election Law

The Fourth Circuit ruled in Greenville County Republican Party v. Greenville County Election Commission that various challenges to South Carolina's municipal election procedures lacked justiciability and dismissed the case.

South Carolina law required municipalities to adopt by ordinance either a partisan or nonpartisan way of nominating candidates for public office in municipal elections. If a municipality selected the partisan method, South Carolina law allowed a certified political party to select one of three procedures: a party primary, a party convention, or a petition. Nomination by party primary required an open primary. Nomination by convention required a 3/4 super-majority vote of the party membership.

The Greenville County Republican Party Executive Committee, an affiliate of the state Republican party but not itself a certified political party, challenged these procedures under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The Committee sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and monetary damages for having to implement the procedures in prior elections.

As the case worked its way up and down, Greenville changed its ordinance to nominate candidates using a nonpartisan procedure.

The Fourth Circuit ruled that this mooted the Committee's claims for prospective relief. In particular, the court said that the County's decision was not capable of repetition but evading review, because the Committee didn't satisfy its burden of establishing "a reasonable expectation" that it wouldn't go back to the partisan method of nominating candidates for future elections.

As to the surviving claims, the court held that the Committee lacked standing. The court said that the Committee didn't suffer any harm from the super-majority requirement for convention-nominated candidates; instead, the state party suffered that harm--making the Committee's claim a nonjusticiable third-party claim. The court also held that the Committee couldn't satisfy the traceability prong of standing, because it was the state party, not Greenville, that elected to use the open primary system. (The state Republican Party was at one time party to the suit, but withdrew.)

The ruling ends this suit, and, in the wake of Greenville's decision to use a nonpartisan nominating process, almost certainly ends any challenges to Greenville's old partisan process.

March 18, 2015 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Daily Video: President Obama's Selma Speech

On the 5oth anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery March, President Obama and other dignitaries gathered in Selma to commemorate the iconic protest which is widely believed to have galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Given the Court's closely divided and controversial 2013 decision in Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder finding parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, as well as subsequent efforts by states to enact voting restrictions, Obama not surprisingly included pertinent references in his speech:

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote.  Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.

How can that be?  The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.  President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.   One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it.  If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.  That’s how we honor those on this bridge. 

Obama left unelaborated what Congress might do in light of the Court's decision in Shelby.  A full text of Obama's speech is here, but the video is worth watching:




March 8, 2015 in Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Can a State Use an Independent Redistricting Commission?

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the case testing whether Arizona can use an independent commission (established by voter initiative, not by the legislature) to redraw congressional districts in light of the Election Clause's language that says that "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof . . . ."

At its core, the arguments turn on just how pliable the term "the Legislature" is: Does it mean only the state legislature (as the legislature would have it); or does it also mean the lawmaking power of the state (as the commission would have it)?

The Court and attorneys predictably turned to text and history. The precedent, such as it is, wasn't much help.

Paul Clement, for the legislature, argued that the commission completely cuts the legislature out, by "permanently wresting that authority." It'd be a harder case, he conceded, if there were some role for the legislature. That prompted questions by Justices Kennedy and Kagan about voter-referendum-approved efforts like voter ID, or judge-drawn districts in the context of litigation: Don't those cut the legislature out completely? Clement argued that those initiatives actually delegate authority to the state legislature, not away from it. As to judge-drawn districts (a question from Justice Kennedy), Clement said that the Constitution requires the plan to go to the legislature. They also turned to line-drawing: If "the Legislature" means only the legislature, how can the legislature allow for so many exceptions (that is, how can the legislature allow any role for any other body, like a gubernatorial veto)? And doesn't the legislature still have a role under the commission system? Can't it initiate a referendum? Clement said no to this last point (although he conceded that the legislature could initiate a voter initiate, like anyone else). Still, there was some concern about where and how to draw lines.

The government, as amicus, argued that the legislature lacked standing. But this didn't gain any traction with the Court, and basically fizzled out.

Justices Scalia and Alito hit Seth Waxman, for the commission, with a series of questions about what "the legislature" means in other parts of the Constitution. Justice Kennedy jumped in with the history of state legislative appointments to the Senate, and the overriding Seventeenth Amendment. (It took the Seventeenth Amendment to take state legislatures out of Senate appointments. Why take state legislatures out of congressional line-drawing (without an amendment) here?) Waxman responded that the Court's interpretations favored the commission; but that response didn't seem to satisfy. (Again, the precedent didn't seem to persuade anyone much either way.) When Waxman turned to dictionaries to help him out, Justice Scalia (of all the Justices) pounced: "You've plucked that out of a couple of dictionaries!" Maybe this wasn't so surprising, though: Justice Scalia seemed to believe that he could decide the case on the text alone, and the idea that no other constitutional reference to "the legislature" means anything other than the legislature. Chief Justice Roberts added force when he wondered why Waxman's interpretation didn't make "the Legislature" superfluous. Waxman fell back on an argument that the Framers understood that the same word could mean different things in different contexts, but this point fell flat.

Clement at one point said that the legislature's position wouldn't foreclose the use of an independent commission to draw state legislative boundaries, and that in this way the people (and their commission) could influence the direction of the state legislature and thus influence the state legislature's congressional district map. He also said that it'd be a harder case if the commission didn't completely divest the legislature of all power in the map-drawing process.

If the people of Arizona are looking for a way to influence congressional district maps after this case, these may be all that's left.

March 2, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Oral Argument Analysis | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Morrison on Arizona Redistricting

Prof. Alan Morrison (GWU) offers his take on Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in this ACS Issue Brief. The case, scheduled for argument on March 2, tests whether Arizona's independent redistricting commission violates the Elections Clause and 2 U.S.C. Sec. 2a(c), and whether the state legislature has standing to bring the challenge.

The state legislature claims that the Commission (created by ballot initiative) violates the Elections Clause because it takes out of the hands of "the Legislature" the "Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives."

Morrison argues that Arizona's commission is the state's "second effort at electoral reform," after the Court struck its public financing system in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett. He says that gerrymandering reformers "should be rooting hard that the Court rejects the position of the Arizona legislature."

We'll post our oral argument preview soon.

February 24, 2015 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Brennan Center on Citizens United and Campaign Spending

The Brennan Center's Daniel Weiner recently released Citizens United Five Years Later, the Center's latest in an outstanding series of reports on Citizens United, campaign spending, and the 2014 elections.

Weiner writes that the case's biggest impact hasn't been increased corporate spending (although corporate spending has increased). Instead, Citizens United and other cases have led to a huge increase in spending by super-wealthy mega-donors:

Perhaps most important, the singular focus on the decision's empowerment of for-profit corporations to spend in (and perhaps dominate) our elections may be misplaced. Although their influence has increased, for-profit corporations have not been the most visible beneficiaries of the Court's jurisprudence. Instead--thanks to super-PACs and a variety of other entities that can raise unlimited funds after Citizens United--the biggest money (that can be traced) has come from an elite club of wealthy mega-donors. These individuals--fewer than 200 people and their spouses--has bankrolled nearly 60 percent of all super-PAC spending since 2010.

And while spending by this wealthy club has exploded, we have seen neither the increased diversity of voices that the Citizens United majority imagined, nor a massive upsurge in total election spending. In fact, for the first time in decades, the total number of reported donors has begun to fall, as has the total contributed by small donors (giving $200 or less). In 2014, the top 100 donors to super-PACs spent almost as much as all 4.75 million small donors combined.

A sobering picture.

Weiner's "can be traced" parenthetical gets some attention in the report, too, where Weiner discusses dark money, "independent" groups, and reporting requirements (or the lack of reporting requirements)--all features of a post-Citizens United world.

Here's Weiner on Tweet the Press with Chuck Todd. And here's the Brennan Center's Ciara Torres-Spelliscy on what Congress should do about it.

January 26, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Robson on Judicial Candidate Solicitation Restrictions

ConLawProfBlog's own Prof. Ruthann Robson (CUNY) recently published her thoughtful, creative, and compelling piece on Williams-Yulee, the case testing Florida's ban on campaign contributions by judicial candidates, on the Supreme Court's calendar on Tuesday. Robson's Public Interest Lawyering & Judicial Politics: Four Cases Worth a Second Look in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar is part of Vanderbilt Law Review's Rountable on the case.

Robson takes a refreshing look at the issue of judicial candidate campaign contributions through the eyes of a public interest attorney. Indeed, she starts the piece with a personal testimonial about being solicited herself--and the awkward position that put her in. (Tellingly, her position wasn't so awkward for other, non-public interest attorneys. They simply contributed.)

She argues that public interest lawyers have a special interest in this issue, and in this case. That's because

as public interest attorneys, we are less likely to be able to contribute to judicial campaigns, but may feel more likely to comply with a solicitation because we know our clients are already at a disadvantage. Additionally, our opposing clients and counsel are often those who are precisely in the position of being solicited and of answering those solicitations with substantial contributions.

She makes her case by persuasively arguing for a "second look" at four earlier decisions--newer and older, all touching on judicial integrity--that in different ways illustrate why a ruling for Williams-Yulee (overturning Florida's ban) "would have a disproportionately negative impact on the public interest bar." Those cases are Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (striking RobsonMinnesota's rule that prohibited judicial candidates from announcing their views on disputed issues); Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. (holding that the failure of a state high court judge to recuse himself from a case involving a major donor violated due process); Shelley v. Kraemer (holding that the judiciary is subject to the same constitutional constraints that the other branches are); and In Re Hawkins (Fl. Sup. Ct.) (upholding a sanction of removal from the bench after a judge sold her book to attorneys with cases before her).

Robson's "second look" cases together illustrate why an impartial judiciary, and the appearance of an impartial judiciary, are so important--to the public, to be sure, but especially to public interest attorneys and their clients. They also show how a ruling for Williams-Yulee (a former public defender herself) could so adversely affect the public interest bar.

Robson's piece brings a voice to this case--the voice of the underrepresented and their attorneys--that's all-too-often lost in sterile arguments about free speech. And she shows why the Court should pay attention to that voice.

[Public interest attorneys] should not have to worry whether [judges] think we "support" them, or whether our adversaries "support" them. We should not have to curry favor through financial contributions directly requested by a person who is hearing our client's causes. To do our work, we must continue to have faith that our judges, whether elected or whether appointed to the United States Supreme Court, are not mere politicians.

An excellent piece that adds to the debate. Check it out.

January 19, 2015 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, News, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Vanderbilt Roundtable on Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar

On Tuesday, January 20, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the closely-watched case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar involving a First Amendment challenge to a state rule prohibiting the personal solicitation of campaign contributions in a judicial election.  Our discussion of the grant of certiorari is here.

Vanderbilt Law Review has published its "Roundtable" symposium about the pending case.  It includes:

The Absent Amicus: “With Friends Like These . . .”
Robert M. O’Neil · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 1 (2015).

Public Interest Lawyering & Judicial Politics: Four Cases Worth a Second Look in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
Ruthann Robson · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 15 (2015).

Much Ado About Nothing: The Irrelevance of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar on the Conduct of Judicial Elections
Chris W. Bonneau & Shane M. Redman · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 31 (2015).

Williams-Yulee and the Inherent Value of Incremental Gains in Judicial Impartiality
David W. Earley & Matthew J. Menendez · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 43 (2015).

Judicial Elections, Judicial Impartiality and Legitimate Judicial Lawmaking: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
Stephen J. Ware · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 59 (2015).

The Jekyll and Hyde of First Amendment Limits on the Regulation of Judicial Campaign Speech
Charles Gardner Geyh · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 83 (2015).

What Do Judges Do All Day? In Defense of Florida’s Flat Ban on the Personal Solicitation of Campaign Contributions From Attorneys by Candidates for Judicial Office
Burt Neuborne · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 99 (2015).

Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the First Amendment, and the Continuing Campaign to Delegitimize Judicial Elections
Michael E. DeBow & Brannon P. Denning · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 113 (2015).





January 15, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Scholarship, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Court to Hear Alabama Redistricting Case

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in the case challenging Alabama's re-drawing of its state legislative districts after the 2010 census. The case pits a claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act against a defense under Section 5, although the constitutionality of those provisions is not (directly) at issue in the case.

Alabama redrew its state legislative districts after the 2010 census in order to maintain equal population across districts (within 2 percent), to maintain the existing number of majority-minority districts, and to maintain the existing percentage of black voters in those majority-minority districts. But the state's demographics shifted so that in order to achieve those goals the state had to pack black voters into existing majority-minority districts. The net result was to consolidate minority voting power in these majority-minority districts, but to enhance Republicans' power in the rest of the state.

Democrats and black legislators and groups sued, arguing that the re-districting plans violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and amounted to racial and political gerrymanders. The state countered that it was compelled to draw the districts this way under Section 5 of the VRA in order to preserve majority-minority districts and to avoid retrogression. (The irony of Alabama using Section 5 as a shield after it so vigorously attacked Section 5 in Shelby County has escaped no one.)

The three-judge district court divided along party lines--the two judges appointed by a Republican president ruling for the state, and the lone judge appointed by a Democrat dissenting.

The case pits the plaintiffs' Section 2 claim against the state's Section 5-based reason for the districts. The state's position--that Section 5 made them do it--is part of a larger trend of states applying "not the Voting Rights Act, but a hamhanded cartoon of the Voting Rights Act--substituting blunt numerical demographic targets for the searching examination of local political conditions that the statute actually demands," according to Loyola's (Los Angeles) Justin Levitt. The state's position also potentially puts the constitutionality of Section 5 before the Court: If Section 5 requires race-based decisions like this, isn't it unconstitutional? That question isn't squarely before the Court, but it's certainly lingering behind the curtains.

November 11, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Elections and Voting, Fifteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

State Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot

In addition to the candidates, Tuesday's ballots contained a wide variety of proposed state constitutional amendments--from protecting and curtailing fundamental rights, to taxes, to structure and governance issues.

Maybe most notably, Colorado and North Dakota voters rejected a personhood amendment, while Tennessee voters approved an amendment giving lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.

Here's a sampling of other approved amendments:

Alabama voters passed an amendment to ban the use of foreign law in state courts, and another one to strengthen the state's constitutional right to hunt.

Illinois voters passed an amendment banning discrimination in the vote and another one that expands the rights of crime victims in the criminal justice system.

Mississippi voters aproved an amendment creating a right to hunt and fish.

Missouri voters approved an amendment to make it easier to prosecute sex crimes against children, and another one to limit the governor's ability to withhold money from the state budget.

North Carolina voters approved an amendment allowing criminal defendants to choose a judge or a jury trial.

South Carolina voters approved an amendment allowing certain nonprofits to hold raffles and use proceeds for charitable causes, and another allowing the governor to appoint the head of the South Carolina National Guard with consent of the Senate.

Tennessee approved four amendments: one to give lawmakers more power to regulate and restrict abortions; two to give more power to the governor in appointing judges (and to take that power away from a judicial nominating commission); three to forbid a state income tax; and four to allow the legislature to authorize lotteries to certain nonprofits.

Utah voters passed an amendment clarifying the term of an appointed lieutenant governor.

Virginia voters approved an amendment that exempts from local property taxes the home of a surviving spouse of an armed forces member who was killed in action.

Wisconsin voters approved an amendment that prevents governors and legislators from using state transportation funds for other purposes.

Here's a sampling of rejected amendments:

Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a personhood amendment.

Florida voters rejected a medical marijuana amendment. (Voters in other states also voted on marijuana initiatives, but Florida's was a proposed constitutional amendment.)

Idaho voters rejected an amendment that would allow the legislature to veto rules put in place by executive branch agencies.

Missouri voters rejected an amendment to evaluate K-12 teachers based on student performance instead of seniority, and another amendment to create a limited early voting period.

North Carolina voters rejected a personhood amendment.

November 5, 2014 in Comparative Constitutionalism, Elections and Voting, News, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Supreme Court Allows Texas Voter ID

The Supreme Court today rejected the applications by the Justice Department and civil rights groups to vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay of a district judge's injunction against Texas's voter ID law, SB 14. The ruling means that Texas can implement voter ID under SB 14 in the fall elections.

We most recently posted on the case (the Fifth Circuit ruling, with links to the district court ruling) here.

The brief, unsigned order simply rejected the applications for a stay.

But Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Ginsburg distinguished the Texas case from the North Carolina and Ohio cases, writing that "[n]either application involved, as this case does, a permanent injunction following a full trial and resting on an extensive record from which the District Court found ballot-access discrimination by the State." She also wrote that the Fifth Circuit didn't properly defer to the district court ruling, and that halting SB 14 wouldn't cause disruption or confusion in the election (the Fifth Circuit's principal reason for rejecting the district court's injunction).

Justice Ginsburg also reviewed the district court ruling striking SB 14, and noted that it failed preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (pre-Shelby County). She concluded,

The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters. To prevent that disenfranchisement, I would vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay of the permanent injunction ordered by the District Court.

October 18, 2014 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)