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 (0)

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)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Seventh Circuit Rebuffs Preliminary Challenge to Same-Day Voter Registration Law

The Seventh Circuit ruled last week that plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their challenge to Illinois's same-day voter-registration law. The ruling sends the case back to the district court for proceedings on the merits, although the ruling strongly suggests that the law is constitutional.

The case, brought by a Republican congressional candidate in the 2016 election and a county Republican party, alleged that Illinois's same-day registration law violated the Equal Protection Clause, because an opt-out provision would disadvantage voters in smaller counties, and thus comparatively boost Democratic voter turnout.

The law requires counties to provide same-day voter registration. But it includes an opt-out for smaller counties that don't have an electronic pollbook. Still, the law requires those counties to offer election-day registration at "the election authority's main office," as well as at "a polling place in each municipality where 20% or more of the county's residents reside if the election authority's main office is not located in that municipality."

The plaintiffs sought and received a preliminary injunction in the district court, but the Seventh Circuit stayed it before the 2016 election. Last week the Seventh Circuit vacated the injunction altogether.

The court said that the law didn't severely burden voters' constitutional right to vote, and so the district court improperly applied strict scrutiny. The court went on to say that the plaintiffs didn't demonstrate a likely success on the merits even under the less rigorous balancing test under Burdick v. Takushi. It concluded:

Even though [the Illinois law] does not force quite as many options on the smaller counties as it does on the 20 largest counties, it permits every county to adopt the default same-day rules, and it provides realistic same-day options even in the smaller places. This, couples with the lack of any data about which groups are disadvantaged and how, dooms the injunction.

August 6, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 22, 2017

SCOTUS Finds Racial Gerrymander in North Carolina Violates Equal Protection Clause

In its opinion in Cooper v. Harris, formerly McCrory v. Harris, the Court affirmed the findings of a three-judge District Court that North Carolina officials violated the Equal Protection Clause in the 2011 redistricting with regard to two districts: District 1 and District 12.

Recall that in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections (argued the same day as Cooper v. Harris), the Court clarified the analysis for reviewing racial gerrymandering claims and remanded the matter back to the three judge District Court to determine 11 out of the 12 districts at issue. 

Justice Elana Kagan, writing for majority in Cooper v. Harris, provides the analytic structure for assessing challenges to racial gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause:

  • First, the plaintiff must prove that “race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district,” quoting Miller v. Johnson (1995).  This means that the legislature "subordinated other factors," including geographic ones, partisan advantage, and "what have you" to racial considerations.
  • Second, if racial considerations predominated over others, the design of the district must withstand strict scrutiny, requiring a compelling governmental interest achieved by narrowly tailored means. 
    • A recognized compelling governmental interest is compliance with the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is a compelling governmental interest. "This Court has long assumed that one compelling interest is complying with operative provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965."
    • To satisfy the narrow-tailoring requirement, the state must show that it had “a strong basis in evidence” for concluding that the VRA required its action. "Or said otherwise, the State must establish that it had “good reasons” to think that it would transgress the Act if it did not draw race-based district lines," a standard which "gives States “breathing room” to adopt reasonable compliance measures that may prove, in perfect hindsight, not to have been needed."

The Court unanimously agrees that District 1 fails this standard.  The racial intent in redistricting was clear.  As to the means chosen, the Court rejected North Carolina's argument that it redesigned the district to comply with the VRA because in fact District 1 had historically been a "cross-over" district in which "members of the majority help a large enough minority to elect a candidate of its choice.  In other words, there was no 'White Bloc' operating in District 1.  The Court rejected North Carolina's argument that this could occur in the future, especially since the entire state was being redrawn.  The Court notes that the officials seemed to believe - - - incorrectly - - - that they were required to draw a majority Black district, despite any evidence of "cross-over."

Appendix 1

image: Appendix 1 to Court's opinion;
note District 1 in yellow and District 12 in orange.

 The Court divided on the constitutionality of District 12, however.  The only issue was whether or not the redistricting was racial; North Carolina did not argue it could satisfy strict scrutiny if race predominated.  Writing for the Court, Justice Kagan, joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor, affirmed the findings of the three judge district court that District 12 was redrawn with reference to race.  North Carolina contended that the officials redrew the district only with reference to political affiliation (which would not violate the Equal Protection Clause), arguing that the goal was to "pack" District 12 with Democrats (and thereby render other districts more Republican).  Justice Kagan noted that the determination of whether an act was racially-motivated or politically-motivated involved a "sensitive inquiry" and that racial identification is "highly correlated" with political affiliation. But for the majority, the District Court's finding of racial predominance must be affirmed:

The evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration. And no error of law infected that judgment: Contrary to North Carolina’s view,the District Court had no call to dismiss this challenge just because the plaintiffs did not proffer an alternative design for District 12 as circumstantial evidence of the legislature’s intent.

Writing the dissenting opinion, Justice Alito, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy (who authored Bethune-Hill), vigorously contested the finding of racial intent.  Alito faults the majority as well as the District Court as being obtuse:  "The majority’s analysis is like Hamlet without the prince."  This bit of snark in the body of the dissent, earns a rebuke from the majority in a footnote to its statement that this district is back before the Court for the sixth time, criticizing the dissent for simply adopting North Carolina's version: "Imagine (to update the dissent’s theatrical reference) Inherit the Wind retold solely from the perspective of William Jennings Bryan, with nary a thought given to the competing viewpoint of Clarence Darrow."  In a counter footnote, Alito defends the opinion from merely accepting North Carolina's explanation. 

The alternative map argument is also a point of contention.  For the majority, it is one way of demonstrating that the redistricting officials acting on the basis of race:

If you were really sorting by political behavior instead of skin color (so the argument goes) you would have done—or, at least, could just as well have done—this.  Such would-have, could-have, and (to round out the set) should-have arguments are a familiar means of undermining a claim that an action was based on a permissible,rather than a prohibited, ground.

But, the majority emphasizes, such strategies are "hardly the only way."  For the dissent, a passage from Easley v. Cromartie, (2001) (Cromartie II), involving essentially the same district, is determinative: plaintiffs must show that the officials could have achieved their political goals in a manner with more racial balance.

Interestingly, in his brief concurring opinion, Justice Thomas references Cromartie II, in which he dissented.  Thomas contends that Cromartie II misapplied the "deferential standard for reviewing factual findings," an error which the present decision "does not repeat."

May 22, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Court Decides Bethune-Hill on Racial Gerrymandering: New Equal Protection Standard on Remand

In its opinion in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Court clarified the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. It affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts.

Recall that the challenge was to the three-judge court’s decision and order holding that a number of Virginia House of Delegates districts did not constitute unlawful racial gerrymanders in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Virginia did consider race in the redistricting, but the question was whether race was the predominant (and thus unconstitutional) consideration. The three-judge lower court required an “actual” conflict between the traditional redistricting criteria and race.

Va Districts

In the opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, the Court clarified the relationship between traditional redistricting principles and unconstitutional racial gerrymandering:

The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit misshapen districts. It prohibits unjustified racial classifications.

More precisely, although there is a racial classification if "redistricting legislation that is so bizarre on its face that it is unexplainable on grounds other than race," as in Shaw v. Reno, (1993), this "inconsistency between the enacted plan and traditional redistricting criteria is not a threshold requirement or a mandatory precondition in order for a challenger to establish a claim of racial gerrymandering."  The Court admitted that "to date " it had not affirmed a racial predominance finding, or remanded a case for a determination of predominance, "without evi­dence that some district lines deviated from traditional principles." Nevertheless, "there may be cases where challengers will be able to establish racial predominance in the absence of an actual conflict by presenting direct evidence of the legislative purpose and intent or other compelling circumstantial evidence." 

Given this articulation of the standard, the three-judge court's analysis of whether there was racial gerrymandering applied only to the portions of the districts that deviated from traditional requirements was clearly problematical.  Indeed,

the basic unit of analysis for racial gerrymander­ing claims in general, and for the racial predominance inquiry in particular, is the district.

The ultimate object of the inquiry, however, is the legis­lature’s predominant motive for the design of the district as a whole. A court faced with a racial gerrymandering claim therefore must consider all of the lines of the district at issue; any explanation for a particular portion of the lines, moreover, must take account of the district wide context. Concentrating on particular portions in isolation may obscure the significance of relevant district wide evidence, such as stark splits in the racial composition of populations moved into and out of disparate parts of the district, or the use of an express racial target. A holistic analysis is necessary to give that kind of evidence its proper weight.

The Court declined the parties' request to apply this standard and remanded the matter of eleven districts. 

As to the twelfth district (district 75), the Court affirmed the three-judge court's finding that race predominated but also that the redistricting satisfied strict scrutiny.  The Court found that not violating §5 of the Voting Rights Act - - - operative then despite the VRA's subsequent erosion in Shelby County v. Holder - - - was a compelling government interest and that the district was narrowly tailored to serve that interest. In his partial dissent, Justice Thomas insisted that this very analysis "is fundamentally at odds with our “color-blind” Constitution, which “neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens,” citing Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) (Harlan, J., dissenting). Justice Thomas then argued that this "contradiction illustrates the perversity of the Court’s jurisprudence in this area as well as the uncomfortable position in which the State might find itself."

Despite the articulation of a somewhat new standard, Bethune-Hill does not seem to be a major opinion and the Court states its "holding in this case is controlled by precedent." Interestingly, the Court did not issue its opinion on the other racial gerrymandering case, McCrory v. Harris, arising in North Carolina and argued on the same day.

[image via]

March 1, 2017 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Opinion Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sixth Circuit Tells Lower Court: Go Ahead and Rule on TN Campaign Finance Law

The Sixth Circuit ruled yesterday that a lower court should go ahead and rule on a First Amendment challenge to Tennessee's Campaign Finance Disclosure Act, and not wait for the outcome of a state administrative proceeding in a different case. The court also hinted toward a likely outcome: the Act violates the First Amendment.

The decision overturns the lower court's invocation of Pullman abstention and orders the lower court to move ahead to the merits. But the Sixth Circuit still gave the lower court a chance to certify interpretation of the state law to the Tennessee Supreme Court (but suggested that this wouldn't really help).

The case arose when two parents of school-aged children formed an unincorporated group to advocate in an upcoming school board election. The group planned to spend less than $250 on independent expenditures, and not make any direct campaign contributions to candidates.

But group members learned that Tennessee law might regulate their activities. The Tennessee Campaign Financial Disclosure Act defines a "political campaign committee" as "a combination of two (2) or more individuals, including any political part governing body, whether state or local, making expenditures, to support or oppose any candidate for public office or measure." The Act goes on to require committees to pay an annual registration fee, appoint a treasurer, maintain a separate bank account, file financial disclosure statements, and keep financial records--all things that the two members weren't prepared to do.

So they sued in federal court, arguing that the Act violated the First Amendment. But the district court punted, invoking Pullman abstention, and citing a pending state administrative proceeding involving the application of the Act to a different group.

The Sixth Circuit reversed. The court said that Pullman abstention wasn't appropriate here, because the state administrative proceeding dealt with different issues (and not the ones that the plaintiffs raised here), because the Act wasn't "so ambiguous as to necessitate abstention," and because the Act wasn't really susceptible to a limiting construction that would save it from a First Amendment challenge.

The court left open an option for the district court to certify a question on the construction of the Act to the Tennessee Supreme Court. But it also suggested that certification wouldn't do any good, because the Act says what it says.

February 16, 2017 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

No Standing to Challenge Trump's Election, Petition for Recount

Three district courts ruled late last week and early this week that petitioners lacked standing (Article III or otherwise) to challenge President-Elect Trump's election, or to petition for a recount.

On Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court effectively halted the recount effort there. Two concurring justices explained that Jill Stein was not "aggrieved" under the recount statute and therefore couldn't petition for a recount--the same argument that Trump and the Michigan AG made earlier in the process. Then on Monday Judge Diamond (E.D. Pa.) ruled that Jill Stein lacked Article III standing to seek a recount through the federal courts. (Judge Diamond identified several other problems with Stein's complaint.)

On Friday, Judge Moss (D.D.C.) tossed a case by a pro se plaintiff challenging Trump's election, because "[a]n ordinary citizen's challenge to the eligibility of a presidential candidate falls squarely within this category of nonjusticiable 'generalized grievances.'"

December 14, 2016 in Elections and Voting, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, December 5, 2016

Daily Read: The Equal Protection Argument for Allocation of Votes in the Electoral College

ConLawProf Lawrence Lessig has a terrific post sharing arguments that the present "winner take all" rule (in all but 2 states) for allocating electoral votes violates the Equal Protection Clause.

As an orientation for assessing the argument, Lessig trenchantly reminds us:

In 2000, Republican lawyers, desperately seeking a way to stop the recount in Florida, crafted a brilliant Equal Protection argument against the method by which the Florida courts were recounting votes. Before that election, no sane student of the Constitution would have thought that there was such a claim. When the claim was actually made, every sane lawyer (on Gore’s side at least) thought it was a sure loser. But by a vote of 7 to 2, the Supreme Court recognized the claim, and held that the Equal Protection Clause regulated how Florida could recount its votes. That conclusion led 5 justices to conclude the recount couldn’t continue. George Bush became president.

[emphasis added]. 

Lessig provides some scholarly sources and reveals he is planning a law review article on the applicability of Bush v. Gore and equal protection principles to the "winner take all" electoral college process. 

But he also shares a first take of a legal argument drafted by Jerry Sims, an Atlanta attorney.  Here's Sims's Georgia example:

In Georgia, for example, we have 16 Electors and approximately 44% of all voters cast ballots for Clinton. Yet the Clinton Voters receive no representation within the State’s Electors. They are left with no voice whatsoever in the election of the President by the Electoral College, their votes are for all practical purposes thrown away. If Georgia were electing a single candidate then a winner-take-all result would be proper, but in an election of 16 Electors, the Clinton votes are not being given equal dignity with the Trump votes. Of course the state could argue that there is a single slate of Electors is up for election. But therein lies the rub, the State is not free to disregard the one man one vote rule by arbitrarily framing the election of 16 Electors as though it is an election of a single office holder. That argument would be a pretext designed to deny any voice to the voters for the candidate not winning the plurality of the vote within the State, even though in reality multiple representatives are being selected to vote in a second election for a single candidate. This system leaves minority voters in Georgia with no voice whatsoever in the final real election. Thus, if the election is viewed by the State as a statewide election, then Electors should be allocated proportionately, in order to give every vote equal dignity and weight, thereby electing a delegation of Electors that actually represents all of the voters within the State. Under this methodology every vote counts. Proportional allocation of Electors respects the one man one vote principle while preserving the small state bias. It merely eliminates the likelihood of a President being elected who did not win the popular vote and did not win because of the small State bias embedded in the Constitution.

Sims links to a spread sheet that provides the data for other states.

The equal protection framework relies on Bush v. Gore and Reynolds v. Sims, as well as Williams v. Rhodes (1968).

It's certainly worth considering. 

600px-Electoral_map_2012-2020.svg

 

December 5, 2016 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Federalism, Fourteenth Amendment, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 2, 2016

UPDATED: Does Jill Stein Have Standing to Petition for a Recount in Michigan?

It depends on what "aggrieved" means, according to the Trump team in its filing yesterday in opposition to Stein's recount petition.

Under Michigan law, a candidate can petition for a recount if the candidate "is aggrieved on account of fraud or mistake in the canvass of the votes by the inspectors of election or the returns made by the inspectors, or by a board of county canvassers or the board of state canvassers."

In a filing before the Michigan Board of State Canvassers yesterday, the Trump team argued that Stein wasn't "aggrieved," because, as the fourth-place finisher in the state, "finishing over 2.2 million votes behind the winner," she could not possibly benefit from a recount. The Trump team argued that her petition should be denied.

It turns out there's little direct authority on how to define "aggrieved." The Trump team points to the gloss given by the Director of Elections in a Board hearing ten years ago, the "natural understanding" of the term, and the use of the term in other places in Michigan law and other states' laws.

But even if Stein was "aggrieved," the Trump team argues that Michigan can't possibly conduct a recount before December 13 (outside the six-day "safe harbor" under federal law before the meeting of the electors on December 19).

But even if Stein was "aggrieved" and if Michigan could conduct a recount, the Trump team argues that Stein failed to sign and swear her petition.

Trump won 2,279,543 votes in Michigan; Clinton won 2,268,839; Gary Johnson won 172,136 votes; and Stein won 51,463.

UPDATE: Michigan AG Bill Schuette just filed suit in the Michigan Supreme Court to halt any recount, making arguments substantially similar to those by the Trump camp.

December 2, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Federal Three-Judge Court Finds Wisconsin's Gerrymander Scheme Unconstitutional

In its opinion in excess of 100 pages in Whitford v. Gill, the majority of a three judge court has concluded that Wisconsin's "gerrymandering" of districts was unconstitutional. 

The factual predicate for the case does not involve the most recent election.  Writing for the majority, Seventh Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple began by explaining:

The plaintiffs have brought this action alleging that Act 43, the redistricting plan enacted by the Wisconsin Legislature in 2011, constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Specifically, they maintain that the Republican-controlled legislature drafted and enacted a redistricting plan that systematically dilutes the voting strength of Democratic voters statewide. We find that Act 43 was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters throughout the decennial period by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats. Moreover, as demonstrated by the results of the 2012 and 2014 elections, among other evidence, we conclude that Act 43 has had its intended effect.

In its discussion of "foundational case law," the court begins its discussion with the equal protection case of Reynolds v. Sims (1964), and concludes with League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (“LULAC”) (2006), although interestingly it does not cite Bush v. Gore (2000).  In considering the "close relationship between equal protection and associational rights," the court found Williams v. Rhodes (1968) especially instructive.  The court concluded:


We therefore believe that there is a solid basis for considering the associational aspect of voting in assessing the gravamen of the harm allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs. Indeed, in this case, the associational harm is especially important to the analysis because the testimony of the defendants’ witnesses as well as the plaintiffs’ demonstrate that, given the legislative practice and custom of Wisconsin, legislative action is controlled, as a practical matter, solely by the majority caucus. In such a circumstance, when the state places an artificial burden on the ability of voters of a certain political persuasion to form a legislative majority, it necessarily diminishes the weight of the vote of each of those voters when compared to the votes of individuals favoring another view. The burdened voter simply has a diminished or even no opportunity to effect a legislative majority. That voter is, in essence, an unequal participant in the decisions of the body politic.

It therefore rejected the notion that equal protection "must be limited to situations where the dilution is based on classifications such as race and population."

The court summarized the applicable doctrine as follows:

the First Amendment and the Equal Protection clause 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.

512px-1865_map-WisconsinThe court then exhaustively applied these standards to the complex facts, concluding that the plaintiffs had carried their burden.  As to remedy, however, the court deferred because the parties had not had the opportunity to completely brief the matter and ordered simultaneous briefs within 30 days with 15 days thereafter to respond.

The dissenting judge, William Griesbach, relied on Davis v. Bandemer (1986) (plurality), in which the Court refused to invalidate Indiana's redistricting scheme, to support his conclusion that "partisan intent is not illegal, but is simply the consequence of assigning the task of redistricting to the political branches of government," and interestingly notes that

"It was only a term ago that the Court held by a 5 to 4 vote that it was constitutionally permissible to remove redistricting from the political branches. Ariz. State Legislature v. Ariz. Indep. Redistricting Comm’n (2015). Adoption of the majority’s standard may well compel States to do so."

The incessant issue of gerrymandering may be headed to the United States Supreme Court yet again.

Appendix 2

 [image 1, Wisconsin map 1865 via; image 2, Appendix 2 to the court's opinion]

November 22, 2016 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Speech, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Supremes Keep Arizona Ban on Ballot Collection in Place

The Supreme Court on Saturday stayed an injunction issued by the Ninth Circuit late last week halting enforcement of Arizona's ballot collection ban. The order means that Arizona can enforce its criminal ban on ballot collection pending appeal to the full Ninth Circuit--well after Election Day.

Recall that a divided three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit denied a preliminary injunction against Arizona's 2016 ballot collection law. That law criminalized the collection and delivery of early ballots by anyone other than the voter. (Arizona had previously allowed certain persons other than the voter to collect and deliver a voter's ballot. This practice was used by minority communities in the state, including Native American, Hispanic, and African American communities that, for different reasons, lacked easy access to the polls.)

The full Ninth Circuit then agreed to hear the case. And the court issued an injunction against enforcement of the law pending appeal. As to any problems from enjoining a law so close to the election (like voter confusion)--the Purcell factors--the court wrote:

First, the injunction does not affect the state's election processes or machinery. . . .

Enjoining enforcement of H.B. 2023 will not have any effect on voters themselves, on the conduct of election officials at the polls, or on the counting of ballots. . . .

Here, the injunction preserves the status quo prior to the recent legislative action in H.B. 2023. Every other election cycle in Arizona has permitted the collection of legitimate ballots by third parties to election officials. . . .

Moreover, the court wrote that Arizona's first attempt at criminalizing ballot collection was stopped by DOJ--denied preclearance before Shelby County effective wiped preclearance off the books. But then Arizona re-enacted it in 2016, after Shelby County said that Arizona no longer had to preclear election-law changes. Thus, according to the Ninth Circuit, an injunction pending appeal didn't run into Purcell problems, because "[i]n the wake of Shelby County, the judiciary provides the only meaningful review of legislation that may violate the Voting Rights Act."

The Ninth Circuit will hear oral arguments in January, but the Supreme Court's order on Saturday ensures that Arizona's ban on ballot collection will stay in place for this election cycle.

The order was unsigned, and there were no concurrences or dissents.

The Ninth Circuit's resource page is here.

 

 

November 6, 2016 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Colorado Federal District Judge Enjoins State's Ballot Selfie Ban

In her opinion in Hill v. Williams, United States District Judge Christine Arguello enjoined Colorado Revised Statute § 1-13-712(1), which prohibits a voter from “show[ing] his ballot after it is prepared for voting to any person in such a way as to reveal its contents.” In late October, the Denver District Attorney issued a news release reminding voters that posting an image of a completed ballot - - - a "ballot selfie" - - - was a misdemeanor.  Two separate sets of plaintiffs thereafter sued to enjoin the Colorado statute as a violation of the First Amendment.

 As Judge Argeullo explains,

Colorado uses an all mail-in ballot election. Every registered voter who registered to vote on or before October 31, 2016, has received a mail-in ballot to complete at home. Individuals who did not register by that date are allowed to register at the polling places and vote up to, and including, Election Day. Moreover, voters who have obtained ballots in the mail are still allowed to vote in person on Election Day. . . . The Deputy Secretary of State testified that she anticipates between 100,000 and 750,000 Coloradans will vote in person on November 8, 2016.

The ballot selfie prohibition thus included photographs at polling places as well as photographs of ballots completed for mailing.

The judge first rejected the state's arguments that the plaintiffs lacked standing or that the case was already moot.  The judge likewise rejected the argument that an injunction would alter election laws and procedures immediately before an election.  Despite the timing, the judge stated that the plaintiffs' request (and her injunction) was narrowly crafted, and further noted that "if local rules at polling places prohibit the use of cameras due to privacy concerns, nothing in this Court’s Order prohibits the enforcement of those rules."

In the discussion of the First Amendment merits, the judge applied intermediate scrutiny for purposes of the preliminary injunction and concluded that the statute failed.  The judge also accepted that voter fraud was a significant government interest.  However, the judge found the means chosen were not sufficiently narrowly tailored to serve that interest: the statute prohibits a wide range of conduct and does not include a mens rea related to voter fraud. Moreover, other extant laws could achieve the purpose of preventing voter fraud.

Thus, the judge entered a preliminary injunction against the defendant prosecutors

from enforcing Colorado Revised Statute § 1-13-712(1) by prosecuting, referring for prosecution, and/or investigating violations thereof, or instructing any person to remove from publication any photograph or image of that person’s voted ballot, unless such violations or publication is in connection with violations of other criminal laws. Nothing in this Order shall alter the ability of Defendants or other officials to enforce any other laws, rules, or regulations related to the administration of the election, including those rules in effect at polling places.

This opinion contrasts with the opinion regarding the New York statute.  Like the New York statute, the Colorado statute is longstanding (section § 1-13-712 was passed in 1891, but was most recently amended in 1980), and both lawsuits were filed close to the pending election.  However, Judge Arguello balanced the First Amendment interests in favor of the individuals and issued a narrow but effective injunction.

800px-Wojciech_Gerson-W_Tatrach

[image via]

November 4, 2016 in Elections and Voting, Federalism, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0)