Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Judge Julie A. Robinson (D. Kansas) ruled yesterday that Kansas's requirement that motor-voter applicants provide proof of citizenship violated the National Voter Registration Act and the constitutional right to vote. In addition, Judge Robinson took Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to task for his conduct over the course of the case, and imposed a remarkable sanction against him.
The ruling should end Kansas's documentary-proof-of-citizenship law, but we'll likely see an appeal (even if almost certainly futile, given the record).
The case tests Kansas's law that motor-voters show proof of citizenship when registering to vote against the NVRA's requirement that states automatically register voters when they apply for a driver's license--and its prohibition on states requiring more information than "necessary to . . . enable State election officials to assess the eligibility of that applicant and to administer voter registration and other parts of the election process." Judge Robinson previously issued a temporary injunction against Kansas's law, upheld by the Tenth Circuit.
As to NVRA preemption, the court applied the Tenth Circuit's rule on NVRA preemption. That rule says that the attestation requirement in Section 5 presumptively satisfies the minimum-information requirement for motor-voter registration. In order to rebut the presumption, the defendant has to show that "they cannot enforce their voter qualifications because a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered using the Federal Form" in order to adopt more strenuous information requirements.
The court said that Kobach simply didn't prove that a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered using the Federal Form, and that there wasn't another, less burdensome way to enforce the state's citizenship requirement:
Defendant was given the opportunity to retain experts and marshal evidence to meet his burden of demonstrating that "a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered to vote under the attestation requirement" in order to rebut the presumption that attestation meets the minimum-information requirement of Section 5 and that nothing less than DPOC is sufficient to meet his eligibility-assessment and registration duties under the NVRA. As described below, the Court finds that on the trial record Defendant has failed to make a sufficient showing on the first inquiry. Moreover, even if Defendant could demonstrate a substantial number of noncitizen registrations, he has not demonstrated that nothing less than the DPOC law is sufficient to enforce the State's citizenship eligibility requirement.
As to the right to vote, Judge Robinson weighed DPOC's benefits and burdens, distinguished the balance in Crawford v. Marion County, and ruled that DPOC violated the right to vote. "Instead, the DPOC law disproportionately impacts duly qualified registration applicants, while only nominally preventing noncitizen voter registration."
Finally, Judge Robinson found that Kobach engaged in a repeated "pattern and practice . . . of flaunting disclosure and discovery rules that are designed to prevent prejudice and surprise at trial." "[G]iven the repeated instances involved, and the fact that Defendant resisted the Court's rulings by continuing to try to introduce such evidence after exclusion, the Court finds that further sanctions are appropriate . . . ." The court ordered Kobach to attend six additional CLE hours (over and above the state's regular requirements), pertaining to federal or Kansas civil rules of procedure or evidence.
Monday, June 18, 2018
In its opinion in Gill v. Whitford involving a challenge to Wisconsin's alleged partisan gerrymandering the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with a concurring opinion by Justice Kagan (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor), found that the plaintiffs did not prove sufficient Article III standing to sustain the relief granted in the divided decision by the three judge court. Additionally, in a per curiam opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, involving a challenge to alleged political gerrymandering in Maryland, the Court declined to disturb the three judge court's decision not to grant to a preliminary injunction.
Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in Gill admits that
Over the past five decades this Court has been repeatedly asked to decide what judicially enforceable limits, if any, the Constitution sets on the gerrymandering of voters along partisan lines. Our previous attempts at an answer have left few clear landmarks for addressing the question.
The Chief Justice's Gill opinion does little, if anything, to remedy this lack of "landmarks" in the doctrine. However, the Chief Justice's opinion continues that the Court's "efforts to sort through those considerations have generated conflicting views both of how to conceive of the injury arising from partisan gerrymandering and of the appropriate role for the Federal Judiciary in remedying that injury" and it is this set of "conflicting views" that the Chief Justice's opinion sets out to resolve. The resolution seems simple: to the extent that plaintiffs' "alleged harm is the dilution of their votes" in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, "that injury is district specific." In sum, the injury must be an individual one that arises from an individual's vote being diluted by the voter's placement in a "cracked" or "packed" district. The Chief Justice's opinion concludes that while the individual plaintiffs had "pleaded a particularized burden along such lines," they failed to prove those facts at trial.
Yet this simplicity is less straightforward when combined with Justice Kagan's concurring opinion, which correctly notes that in addition to the Equal Protection Clause claim of vote dilution, "at some points in this litigation, the plaintiffs complained of a different injury — an infringement of their First Amendment right of association." [Indeed, the opinion for the three judge court seems to combine the equal protection and First Amendment claims.] On the First Amendment claim, Kagan writes:
when the harm alleged is not district specific, the proof needed for standing should not be district specific either. And the associational injury flowing from a statewide partisan gerrymander, whether alleged by a party member or the party itself, has nothing to do with the packing or cracking of any single district’s lines. The complaint in such a case is instead that the gerrymander has burdened the ability of like-minded people across the State to affiliate in a political party and carry out that organization’s activities and objects. Because a plaintiff can have that complaint without living in a packed or cracked district, she need not show what the Court demands today for a vote dilution claim. Or said otherwise: Because on this alternative theory, the valued association and the injury to it are statewide, so too is the relevant standing requirement.
Moreover, even on the equal protection vote dilution claim, Kagan's opinion instructs that the Court's determination of remand rather than dismissal means that
the plaintiffs—both the four who initially made those assertions and any others (current or newly joined)—now can introduce evidence that their individual districts were packed or cracked. And if the plaintiffs’ more general charges have a basis in fact, that evidence may well be at hand. Recall that the plaintiffs here alleged—and the District Court found —that a unified Republican government set out to ensure that Republicans would control as many State Assembly seats as possible over a decade (five consecutive election cycles). To that end, the government allegedly packed and cracked Democrats throughout the State, not just in a particular district (see, e.g., Benisek v. Lamone) or region. Assuming that is true, the plaintiffs should have a mass of packing and cracking proof, which they can now also present in district-by-district form to support their standing. In other words, a plaintiff residing in each affected district can show, through an alternative map or other evidence, that packing or cracking indeed occurred there.
[emphasis added]. The Court remanded and declined to "direct dismissal" given that this "is not the usual case" because the it "concerns an unsettled kind of claim," the "contours and justiciability of which are unresolved." Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, wrote separately to disagree with the remand, arguing there is "nothing unusual" about the case and that the matter should be dismissed.
In the five page per curiam opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, the Court declined to disturb the three judge court's denial of a motion for preliminary injunction. Seemingly without irony, the Court noted that one rationale for the three judge court's denial of a preliminary injunction was its concern about assessing the merits of the partisan gerrymandering claim and its prediction it would be "better equipped to make that legal determination and to chart a wise course" after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Gill. However, the per curiam opinion of the Court also reasoned that even if the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits, the other factors in a preliminary injunction decision including the balance of equities and the public interest "tilted against" the issuance of a preliminary injunction.
In sum, the decisions in Gill and Benisek leave the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering as unsettled as before.
[image: "the gerrymander" via]
June 18, 2018 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, June 16, 2018
Maine became the first state this week to use ranked-choice-voting in a state-wide election. In addition to electing candidates in the primaries, Maine voters also voted in favor of a referendum favoring ranked-choice.
It may seem odd that voters both used ranked-choice and voted for it in the same election. (Wouldn't a vote for it usually precede a vote using it?) Here's why: The referendum was designed to undo legislation that postponed and repealed ranked-choice voting unless a constitutional amendment (allowing it) passed before December 1, 2021. The legislation, in turn, was enacted by legislative opponents of ranked-choice, who argued, among other things, that ranked-choice violated the state constitution.
That argument didn't come out of the blue. The state supreme court issued a non-binding advisory opinion earlier this year concluding that ranked-choice did, indeed, violate the state constitution. In short, the court said ranked-choice, with its multiple-rounds that might result in a candidate with a first-round plurality from losing the election (when there are three or more candidates), violated the state constitutional provisions that say that the winning candidate in an election is the person who receives a "plurality" of the vote. The court explained:
The Act, in contrast, provides for the tabulation of votes in rounds. Thus, the Act prevents the recognition of the winning candidate when the first plurality is identified. According to the terms of the Constitution, a candidate who receives a plurality of the votes would be declared the winner in that election. The Act, in contrast, would not declare the plurality candidate the winner of the election, but would require continued tabulation until a majority is achieved or all votes are exhausted. Accordingly, the Act is not simply another method of carrying out the Constitution's requirement of a plurality. In essence, the Act is inapplicable if there are only two candidates, and it is in direct conflict with the Constitution if there are more than two candidates.
The discrepancy between the Act and the Constitution is easily illustrated by the simplest of scenarios. If, after one round of counting, a candidate obtained a plurality of the votes but not a majority, that candidate would be declared the winner according to the Maine Constitution as it currently exists. According to the Act, however, that same candidate would not then be declared the winner.
Instead, the candidate, though already having obtained a plurality of the votes, would be subject to additional rounds of counting in which second, third, and fourth choices are accounted for and the lowest vote-garnering candidates are successively eliminated. Once those additional rounds are completed, a different candidate may be declared the winner--not because that second candidate obtained a plurality of the votes (which the first candidate had already obtained), but because that candidate obtained a majority of the votes after eliminating the other candidates by taking into account the second, third, and fourth place preferences, or because the ballots have been exhausted. In this way, the Act prevents the candidate obtaining a "plurality" from being named the winner unless and until multiple rounds of vote-counting have occurred.
(NB: The ruling is as interesting, or more, for its analysis of the court's power to issue advisory opinions in the context of Maine constitutional separation of powers.)
The ruling is merely advisory, however, and not binding. So there's no definitive say-so as to the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in the state. Because the referendum removes the legislative barrier to ranked-choice in the absence of a constitutional amendment by December 2021, unless there's an actual and adversarial court case challenging ranked choice (and winning), we'll see it again in the next election, constitutional amendment or not.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
In its opinion in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the Court held that a provision of a Minnesota law regulating voters' political attire violates the First Amendment. Recall from our preview that Minn. Stat. §211B.11, entitled "Soliciting near polling places," includes among its petty misdemeanor violations a prohibition of political attire: "A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day."
The Court's majority opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts, finds that the "polling place" on election day constitutes a nonpublic forum under the First Amendment; it is "government- controlled property set aside for the sole purpose of voting" and is a "special enclave, subject to greater restriction." The question as phrased by the Court was therefore whether "Minnesota’s ban on political apparel is 'reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum': voting." As in the oral argument, the Court considered the relevance of Burson v. Freeman (1992), in which the Court upheld a Tennessee statute which prohibited the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place.
Analogizing to Burson, the Court upheld Minnesota's objective in prohibiting voters from wearing particular kinds of expressive apparel or accessories while inside the polling place.
[W]e see no basis for rejecting Minnesota’s determination that some forms of advocacy should be excluded from the polling place, to set it aside as “an island of calm in which voters can peacefully contemplate their choices.” Brief for Respondents 43. Casting a vote is a weighty civic act, akin to a jury’s return of a verdict, or a representative’s vote on a piece of legislation. It is a time for choosing, not campaigning. The State may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect that distinction.
However, the Court found that the Minnesota statute failed to satisfy the reasonable standard in the means chosen to achieve its goal: "the unmoored use of the term 'political' in the Minnesota law, combined with haphazard interpretations the State has provided in official guidance and representations to this Court, cause Minnesota’s restriction to fail even this forgiving test." The Court found "political" far too broad (citing dictionary definitions) and likewise found that "issue oriented material" was also too broad (" A rule whose fair enforcement requires an election judge to maintain a mental index of the platforms and positions of every candidate and party on the ballot is not reason- able. Candidates for statewide and federal office and major political parties can be expected to take positions on a wide array of subjects of local and national import.")
However, the Court gestured toward acceptable means chosen:
That is not to say that Minnesota has set upon an impossible task. Other States have laws proscribing displays (including apparel) in more lucid terms. See, e.g., Cal. Elec. Code Ann. §319.5 (West Cum. Supp. 2018) (prohibiting “the visible display . . . of information that advocates for or against any candidate or measure,” including the “display of a candidate’s name, likeness, or logo,” the “display of a ballot measure’s number, title, subject, or logo,” and “[b]uttons, hats,” or “shirts” containing such information); Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §61.010(a) (West 2010) (prohibiting the wearing of “a badge, insignia, emblem, or other similar communicative device relating to a candidate, measure, or political party appearing on the ballot, or to the conduct of the election”). We do not suggest that such provisions set the outer limit of what a State may proscribe, and do not pass on the constitutionality of laws that are not before us. But we do hold that if a State wishes to set its polling places apart as areas free of partisan discord, it must employ a more discernible approach.
The appendix lists thirty-four states prohibiting accessories or apparel in the polling place.
Dissenting, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Breyer, would have certified the issue of the interpretation of the statute to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Court, in footnote 7, explained its decision not to certify, including that the request came "late in the day," but Sotomayor argued that "certification is not an argument subject to forfeiture by the parties" and is instead a matter of comity. Moreover, she contended that having an interpretation of the statute, including the term "political" (which she noted the Court had "little difficulty discerning its meaning in the context of [other] statutes subject to First Amendment challenges, citing cases), would "obviate the hypothetical line-drawing problems that form the basis of the Court’s decision today."
Thus, the import of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky is that states can prohibit certain expressive apparel and accessories at the polling place on election day, but the courts must find the statutory definitions sufficiently defined as to be "reasonable."
Sunday, June 10, 2018
Maine will become the first state to use ranked-choice voting in a state-wide election in its Tuesday primaries. Maine's Secretary of State has a resource page here, including sample ballots, FAQs, and even an entertaining video explaining how it'll work. Check it out!
The move to ranked-choice voting in the state isn't uncontroversial, as reported earlier this spring in The Atlantic. But results from other jurisdictions within the U.S., and from other countries (that have much richer experiences using ranked-choice or some form of instant-run-off voting), are promising.
Tuesday, April 24, 2018
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Abbott v. Perez, regarding the constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause and the validity under the Voting Rights Act of the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature in 2013. Recall that in an extensive opinion in August 2017, the three judge court made detailed findings, one of which was that the Texas legislature engaged on intentional racial discrimination violating the Fourteenth Amendment.
Much of the argument centered on the acts of the Texas legislature in 2013 adopting maps which had previously been found invalid because of racial discrimination. Arguing for Texas, Scott Keller, the Texas Solicitor General, argued that the Texas legislature was entitled to a presumption of good faith and that the "taint" did not carry forward, and Edwin Kneedler, from the United States Solicitor General's Office, likewise stressed that the "taint" should not carry forward. Arguing for various challengers to the redistricting, Max Hicks and Allison Riggs, both stressed the standard of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997), contending that the taint does not end, and stressing the extensive findings by the three judge court.
The question of how long a discriminatory intent taint persists sometimes seemed as if it was a preview of the next oral argument, that in Hawai'i v. Trump.
Yet the oral arguments in Abbott v. Perez were also preoccupied with the "jurisdictional" question; Chief Justice Roberts at several points directed the parties to move to the merits. This jurisdictional question involves the status of the three judge court order and whether it is actually a reviewable order. Recall that the order was not a preliminary injunction, but instead the court directed the Texas Attorney General to provide a "written advisory within three business days stating whether the Legislature intends to take up redistricting in an effort to cure these violations and, if so, when the matter will be considered." Justice Breyer suggested that the operable "piece of paper" in the case was not a judgment or preliminary injunction, but only a direction to come to court.
While jurisdictional issues are always important to the Court, when the jurisdiction involves appeals as of right from three judge court decisions, the stakes are higher in terms of workload. As Justice Sotomayor asked, what distinguishes this case from the "millions of others - - - not millions, I'm exaggerating greatly - - - the hundreds of these . . . ."
April 24, 2018 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Recent Cases, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, April 4, 2018
The United States Commerce Department's announcement that the 2020 Decennial Census Questionnaire will include a citizenship question, which the census has not included since 1950, continues to provoke litigation. Recall that soon after the late March announcement, California v. Ross challenged the constitutionality of the change as violating the Constitution's requirement of “actual Enumeration” of all people in each state every ten years for the sole purpose of apportioning representatives among the states. U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and amend. XIV, § 2.
An additional complaint filed in the Southern District of New York, New York v. United States Department of Commerce, raises the same constitutional objection on behalf of seventeen state plaintiffs, the District of Columbia, as well as six cities and the United States Conference of Mayors. The first count of the complaint is based on the "actual enumeration" requirement and avers that adding a citizenship question will "deter participation." The allegations in the complaint regarding the link between a citizenship demand and lower participation interestingly rely on the Census Bureau's own arguments and findings. The complaint alleges that consequences of lower participation is "an undercount" that will not reflect the accurate population of the plaintiffs, effecting their representation in the House of Representatives and the Electors. Two additional counts are based on the Administration Procedure Act, with the second count regarding the government's decision as contrary to the constitution and law including arguments regarding the "actual enumeration" requirement.
Additionally, the NAACP has filed a complaint in the District of Maryland, NAACP v. Bureau of the Census, with one count based on the "actual enumeration" requirement. The NAACP complaint stresses the risks of an undercount of racial and ethnic minorities, and opens thusly:
Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution imposes one of the few affirmative obligations on the federal government: to conduct an “actual Enumeration” of all residents every ten years. Despite this duty, the United States has undercounted people of color since the nation’s founding, starting with the decision to treat African American slaves as only three-fifths of a person. The Three-Fifths Clause appeared in the same constitutional provision that mandates a decennial census.
Monday, April 2, 2018
Check out this NYT editorial on MLK, race and voting rights at the Supreme Court. Here's what it says on Chief Justice Roberts's majority opinion in Shelby County striking the coverage formula for Section 5 preclearance, because "things have changed dramatically":
In one sense, he was right: Racial discrimination in voting is no longer as blatant or systemic as it was in 1965. But the idea that the American fixation on race and power had magically evaporated in just a few decades was, at best, striking naive. It was also disproved within hours of the court's ruling, when Republican lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina, both states that had been covered by the Voting Rights Act, rammed through discriminatory new voting laws that they had been gunning to pass for years, including some that had been blocked under the act.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
In oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamone, the United States Supreme Court again confronted the the constitutionality of gerrymandering on the basis of political party. Recall that the Court heard arguments earlier in this Term in Gill v. Whitford involving the state of Wisconsin and centering on the Equal Protection Clause challenge. In Benisek, involving Maryland, recall that a divided three judge court denied the motion for preliminary injunction, but with Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer arguing that the redistricting of Maryland's Sixth District diluted the votes of Republicans in violation of the First Amendment.
The Benisek argument before the Supreme Court did center the First Amendment, but equal protection doctrine did surface in the context of comparing racial gerrymandering which is analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause. Arguing for Maryland, Steve Sullivan sought to distinguish the two doctrines, with Justice Kagan responding:
JUSTICE KAGAN: But we would be looking at the same things. We would be looking at the same kind of direct evidence, the same kind of statements. We would be looking at the same circumstantial evidence that has to do with where the lines were drawn and how they were drawn. So it's -- it's all the same kind of evidence, isn't it?
Sullivan sought to distinguish the two doctrines and stated that while there may be similar types of evidence, the Court had not applied "the First Amendment retaliation rubric to that analysis," as the challengers suggested. However, Chief Justice Roberts offered another comparison:
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, one difference between -- one difference between the race and partisanship is that we've always recognized that a certain degree of partisanship is acceptable. We've never recognized that a certain degree of racial discrimination is acceptable.
The earliest moments of the oral argument offered a possible procedural escape hatch. The three judge court had denied the preliminary injunction and the possibility that any remedy could occur before the 2018 election seemed unlikely. Moreover, the Justices questioned Michael Kimberly, attorney for the plaintiffs-challengers, regarding the lateness of the challenge, with Chief Justice Roberts asking about the elections that have been held in 2012, 2014, and 2016 before the challenge - - - relevant to the preliminary injunction factor of irreparable harm.
Justice Breyer offered a strategy for determining whether there are manageable standards and if so, what the standard should be. (Recall that Justice Breyer outlined a several-step possible standard in the oral argument in Gill v. Whitford). Justice Breyer noted that there are three cases - - - Wisconsin (Gill v. Whitford); Maryland (Benisek); and "the one we are holding, I think, is North Carolina" - - - with different variations. He began by asking the attorney for the challengers what he thought of reargument for the three cases:
JUSTICE BREYER: * * * * What would you think of taking the three cases and setting them for reargument on the question of standard and there we'd have all three variations in front of us and we would enable people who have an interest in this subject generally to file briefs, and we'd see them all together and they could attack each other's standards or they could support each other's standards or they could attack any standard? But there we'd have right in front of us the possibilities as -- as -- as thought through by lawyers and others who have an interest in this subject.
I raise it because I want to think if there's some harm in doing that that I haven't thought of. Is there some reason - would it be harmful to somebody? Because I do see an advantage. You could have a blackboard and have everyone's theory on it, and then you'd have the pros and cons and then you'd be able to look at them all and then you'd be able see perhaps different ones for different variations and, you know, that's -- maybe there are different parts of gerrymandering that rises in different circumstances, dah-dah-dah. You see the point.
Later, in a colloquy with the attorney for Maryland, Justice Breyer again surfaced his proposal:
That's why I was thinking you've got to get all these standards lined up together, you know, and you have to have people criticizing each one back and forth and see if any of them really will work or some work in some cases and some work in other cases and it depends on the type you have.I -- I mean, that isn't squarely addressed by the lawyers because they're focused on their one case, et cetera.
Will there be a reargument? It's difficult to tell. But if there is, one might expect more than one brief that outlines the possible standards, with their advantages, disadvantages, and possible results in different cases, suitable for a "blackboard."
[image: Winslow Homer, Blackboard, 1877, via]
March 28, 2018 in Association, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Oral Argument Analysis, Recent Cases, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
The Commerce Department has announced that the 2020 Decennial Census Questionnaire will include a citizenship question, which the census has not included since 1950. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced the change of policy in a letter which states the change is at the request of the Department of Justice (DOJ) in order to gather data regarding the "citizenship voting age population" (CVAP) to determine violations of section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The first count of the complaint in California v. Ross alleges a constitutional violation:
- The Constitution requires the “actual Enumeration” of all people in each state every ten years for the sole purpose of apportioning representatives among the states. U.S. Const. art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and amend. XIV, § 2.
- By including the citizenship question on the 2020 Census, Defendants are in violation of the “actual Enumeration” clause of the Constitution. Because the question will diminish the response rates of non-citizens and their citizen relatives, California, which has the largest immigrant population in the country, will be disproportionately affected by the census undercount. Inclusion of the question thus directly interferes with Defendants’ fulfillment of their constitutional responsibility, as delegated by Congress, to conduct an “actual Enumeration” of the U.S. population.
- This Violation harms the State of California and its residents, given that the State is entitled under the Constitution to a proportionate share of congressional representatives based on its total population.
In support of diminished response rates and the resultant undercount, the complaint includes in its allegations statements from the letter of Secretary Ross (as well as attaching the letter) in which Ross states that he
"carefully considered the argument that the reinstatement of the citizenship question on the decennial census would depress response rate. Because a lower response rate would lead to increased non—response follow—up costs and less accurate responses,this factor was an important consideration in the decision-making process. I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate."
In other words, a lower response rate is acceptable. Although the Ross letter continues that "limited empirical evidence exists about whether adding a citizenship question would decrease response rates materially." Exhibit 2 to the Complaint is a Memorandum from the Center for Survey Measurement (CSM), a division within the Census Bureau, which raised concerns in September 2017 regarding response rates in current conditions even before the citizenship question would be added.
The Constitution Accountability Center's David Gans has a rather extensive memo posted last week, The Cornerstone of Our Democracy: The Census Clause and the Constitutional Obligation to Count All Persons, which uses originalist and practical rationales to argue that a citizenship question on the census is unconstitutional.
[image: Norman Rockwell, The Census Taker]
Monday, March 26, 2018
The Sixth Circuit ruled last week that Ohio's single-subject rule for ballot initiatives doesn't violate the First Amendment. The ruling upholds a state Ballot Board order requiring the plaintiffs to split their initiative--which includes one question on term limits for state supreme court justices and another to apply all laws "that apply to the people" of the state "equally to the members and employees of the General Assembly"--into two.
The case, Committee to Impose Term Limits v. Ohio Ballot Board, arose when the state Ballot Board rejected the plaintiffs' request to include a ballot question with two parts--one to impose term limits on Ohio supreme court justices, and the other to apply laws equally to members of the General Assembly. The Board ruled that state single-subject rule for ballot initiatives required the plaintiffs to split the questions. The plaintiffs sued, arguing that the Board's ruling violated the First Amendment.
The Sixth Circuit disagreed. The court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the single-subject rule was a content-based restriction on speech and instead applied the Anderson-Burdick balancing test for "minimally burdensome and nondiscriminatory regulations." Under the balancing test, the court said that the single-subject rule amounted to only a minimal burden on the plaintiffs, but that it was justified by multiple state interests (avoiding confusion at the ballot box, promoting informed decision-making, preventing logrolling).
The ruling aligns with every other circuit that addressed the question post-Buckley v. Valeo.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The Court heard oral argument in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, a First Amendment challenge to Minn. Stat. §211B.11, entitled "Soliciting near polling places," and includes among its petty misdemeanor violations a prohibition of political attire: "A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day." The argument tracked many of the issues in our preview here.
Important to the argument was the relevance of Burson v. Freeman (1992), in which the Court upheld a Tennessee statute which prohibited the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place. Early in the argument, Justice Sotomayor asked J. David Breemer, counsel for the petitioners, whether he was asking the Court to overrule Burson. Breemer distinguished Burson as "active campaigning" speech while the Minnesota statute governing attire and buttons was directed at "passive speech," but this did not seem satisfactory to the Justices.
The slippery slope inherent in overbreadth challenges was traversed multiple times. How could the lines be drawn? Several Justices at different points pressed counsel for Minnesota Voters Alliance on whether the statute would be constitutional if narrowed to "electoral speech" (vote for candidate X), but while counsel eventually agreed this might be constitutional, Justice Sotomayor then asked about ballot measure issues. During Daniel Rogan's argument on behalf of the State of Minnesota, Justice Alito pressed with any number of examples after stating that political connotations are in the "eye of the beholder": rainbow flags, Parkland Strong, the text of the Second Amendment, the text of the First Amendment, and "I miss Bill." And what about the very notion of entitlement to vote itself? In Breemer's rebuttal, Justice Sotomayor returned to some of the facts that had prompted the First Amendment challenge:
Let's not forget who these people were and what they were wearing, "Please ID me," which for some people was a highly charged political message, which was found, on remand, was intended to intimidate people to leave the polling booth . . . .
For Alito, the focus was not on voters who may be intimidated but on the humiliation of a voter who might be forced to cover up a political shirt with "a bathrobe."
As for the government interests supporting the statute, the question of dignity and decorum were paramount, inviting the comparison to the courtroom, which Justice Kagan raised. Although Breemer stated there was no constitutional right to vote free from being bothered, C.J. Roberts asked why a state could not make a determination that there should be such a policy.
The on-the-ground enforcement of the statute, with a potential for viewpoint discrimination, was a focus of Justice Alito's questions, but other Justices were also interested in what actually happened at the polling place. For Alito,but Rogan stressed the process and repeatedly noted that for one hundred years the statute has not been a problem and that Minnesotans know not to wear political slogans to go vote. If there are issues, Rogan stated, they are rather expeditiously solved in a bipartisan process at the polling place.
While one can assume their positions from their questions in oral argument from a few Justices - - - Alito seemed rather obvious - - - it is always risky to venture a guess about the outcome, especially when there is a conflict of constitutional interests. Indeed, this case may be most like Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar in which a closely-divided Court in 2015 upheld an ethics rule prohibiting judicial candidates from solicitation; Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion.
Monday, February 26, 2018
Judge William Q. Hayes (S.D. Cal.) on Friday dismissed a challenge to a city's new single-member districts for its city council elections for lack of standing. The ruling means that the city's new districting plan stays in place.
The case, Higginson v. Becerra, arose when the City of Poway switched from at at-large system to a single-member-district system of elections for its four-member city council. The City made the change reluctantly, and only in response to threatened litigation by a private attorney, who wrote to the council that its at-large system violated the California Voting Rights Act. (The attorney argued that the at-large system, along with racially polarized voting in the City, effectively prevented Latinos from electing a candidate of their choice.) The council vigorously disagreed that its at-large system violated the CVRA, but agreed to change, anyway, in order to avoid litigation costs.
After the council drew its new single-member districts, Don Higginson, a voter in the new District 2, sued, arguing that the CVRA violated equal protection. His theory was a little unusual: "The CVRA makes race the predominant factor in drawing electoral districts. Indeed, it makes race the only factor given that a political subdivision, such as the City, must abandon its at-large system based on the existence of racially polarized voting and nothing more." (In other words: according to Higgerson, because there was racially polarized voting, any CVRA requirement to undo the effects of that voting in an at-large system violated equal protection.)
Higginson sued AG Becerra for injunctive relief (to stop him from enforcing the CVRA) and the City for injunctive relief (to stop it from using its single-member district map, as required by the CVRA (according to Higgerson)).
The court dismissed the case for lack of standing. The court said that Higginson's harm in not being able to vote for council-members in three of the four districts (because the CVRA required the change to single-member districts)--assuming this was even a cognizable harm--wasn't traceable to AG Becerra or the City. As to AG Becerra, the court said that the AG had not enforced the CVRA against the City, and therefore couldn't have caused Higginson's alleged harm. As to the City, the court said that it acted out of a desire to avoid litigation costs, not because it thought its at-large system violated the CVRA, and therefore it couldn't have caused his alleged harm in the name of CVRA compliance. (For the same reasons, the court said that Higginson failed to demonstrate that his requested relief would redress his alleged harm.)
Without causation and redressability, Higginson lacked standing, and the court dismissed the case.
On February 28, 2018, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, a First Amendment challenge to Minn. Stat. §211B.11, entitled "Soliciting near polling places," and includes among its petty misdemeanor violations a prohibition of political attire: "A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day."
The Eighth Circuit, in a brief opinion affirming the district judge's grant of summary judgment to the government defendants, upheld the statute against an as-applied First Amendment challenge.
The plaintiffs sought to wear Tea Party apparel and part of their argument was that the Tea Party was not a political party and that they had been subject to selective enforcement. The Eighth Circuit rather summarily rejected both of these arguments finding that they were not supported by the record. In a previous opinion, the Eighth Circuit had allowed plaintiffs to develop this record by reversing the district judge's initial dismissal of the complaint on the First Amendment as-applied claim, while affirming the dismissal of the First Amendment facial challenge and an equal protection challenge. One judge dissented on the First Amendment facial challenge claim. And it this facial challenge that is before the United States Supreme Court, the question presented by the petition for certiorari is: "Is Minnesota Statute Section 211B.11(1), which broadly bans all political apparel at the polling place, facially overbroad under the First Amendment?"
Undoubtedly the political attire at issue is expressive speech that the government could not ordinarily ban under the First Amendment. Thus, the status of the polling place on election day as an exception will be the centerpiece of the arguments. In Burson v. Freeman (1992), the Court upheld a Tennessee statute which prohibited the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place. The plurality opinion by Justice Blackmun applied strict scrutiny, finding that 100 feet parameter involved a public forum and that the speech was being regulated on the basis of its content. However, confronted with a "particularly difficult reconciliation" of rights: "the accommodation of the right to engage in political discourse with the right to vote - a right at the heart of our democracy," the plurality found that this was a "rare case" in which a statute survived strict scrutiny.
Here, the State, as recognized administrator of elections, has asserted that the exercise of free speech rights conflicts with another fundamental right, the right to cast a ballot in an election free from the taint of intimidation and fraud. A long history, a substantial consensus, and simple common sense show that some restricted zone around polling places is necessary to protect that fundamental right. Given the conflict between these two rights, we hold that requiring solicitors to stand 100 feet from the entrances to polling places does not constitute an unconstitutional compromise.
Concurring, Justice Scalia disagreed that the case involved a public forum: "Because restrictions on speech around polling places on election day are as venerable a part of the American tradition as the secret ballot," "exacting scrutiny" was inappropriate. Instead, Scalia contended that although the statute was content based, it was "constitutional because it is a reasonable, viewpoint-neutral regulation of a nonpublic forum."
In addition to this precedent, it will be difficult to ignore that the oral argument will be occurring at the United States Supreme Court with its specific instruction to visitors to the argument that "identification tags (other than military), display buttons and inappropriate clothing may not be worn." Additionally, two federal statutes, 40 U.S.C. §6135 and 40 U.S.C. 13k make it unlawful "to display therein any flag, banner, or device designed or adapted to bring into public notice any party, organization, or movement" in the Supreme Court building or grounds. The Court determined that the prohibition of political speech as applied to the surrounding sidewalk of the Supreme Court was unconstitutional in United States v. Grace (1983) (Mary Grace was displaying a placard with the First Amendment), but stopped far short of declaring the statute unconstitutional. Dissenting in part, Justice Marshall contended that the entire statute should be unconstitutional, noting that it “would be ironic indeed if an exception to the Constitution were to be recognized for the very institution that has the chief responsibility for protecting constitutional rights.”
But after some D.C. courts had upheld the statutes, a D.C. district judge declared U.S.C. §6135 unconstitutional in Hodge v. Talkin (2013), causing the Supreme Court to amend its regulations regarding the term "demonstration" to exclude "casual use by visitors or tourists that is not reasonably likely to attract a crowd or onlookers.," but to nevertheless continue to prohibit "all other like forms of conduct that involve the communication or expression of views or grievances." Nevertheless, a person arrested for wearing a jacket with the words "Occupy Everywhere" as a seemingly casual visitor to the Supreme Court building achieved little success in his attempt to vindicate himself. In other courtrooms, judges have banned spectators from wearing expressions related to the proceedings, for example in the trial of Bei Bei Shuai for ingesting poison to kill herself that harmed her fetus, and in the high-profile criminal trial of Cecily McMillan for assaulting a police officer who she alleged grabbed her breast. The United States Supreme Court obliquely confronted the issue of courtroom spectator in 2006 in Carey v. Musladin, which was decided on other procedural grounds. (For more discussion of spectator attire in courtrooms see Dressing Constitutionally).
The courtroom analogy will most likely surface at some point during the oral argument. In its brief, the Minnesota Voters Alliance relies on Justice Marshall's partial dissenting opinion in Grace, while Manksy's Respondent's brief ventures a specific analogy:
Because voting rights are of such bedrock importance, a polling place—like a courtroom—can reasonably be restricted to reflect the solemn and weighty nature of the function that occurs there.
But it will be interesting to hear how specific comparisons the United States Supreme Court's own practices in banning political t-shirts and similar attire will be. As for the attire of those attending the oral argument, if past practices hold, none of them will be wearing a Tea Party t-shirt or even a button expressing a political viewpoint.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Check out Michael Tomasky's piece Who Needs Congressional Districts? in the NYT. Against the backdrop of Pennsylvania redistricting, Tomasky argues in favor of "general ticket" voting--at-large elections--over single-member districts for congressional elections. As he points out, Article I, Section 2, says only this about congressional elections: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states." It does not prescribe single-member districts, and allows at-large elections and slate voting.
Thursday, February 1, 2018
In his opinion in Hand v. Scott, United States District Judge for the Northern District of Florida Mark Walker declared Florida's re-enfranchisement scheme for persons convicted of felonies to be restored their right to vote unconstitutional under both the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
The court's decision was on cross motions for summary judgment and Judge Walker opens his opinion by describing the Florida scheme:
Florida strips the right to vote from every man and woman who commits a felony. To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s Governor has absolute veto authority. No standards guide the panel. Its members alone must be satisfied that these citizens deserve restoration. Until that moment (if it ever comes), these citizens cannot legally vote for presidents, governors, senators, representatives, mayors, or school-board members. These citizens are subject to the consequences of bills, actions, programs, and policies that their elected leaders enact and enforce. But these citizens cannot ever legally vote unless Florida’s Governor approves restoration of this fundamental right.
Florida’s Executive Clemency Board has, by rule, unfettered discretion in restoring voting rights. “We can do whatever we want,” the Governor said at one clemency hearing. One need not search long to find alarming illustrations of this scheme in action. In 2010, a white man, Steven Warner, cast an illegal ballot. Three years later, he sought the restoration of his voting rights. He went before the state’s Executive Clemency Board, where Governor Scott asked him about his illegal voting.
“Actually, I voted for you,” he said. The Governor laughed. “I probably shouldn’t respond to that.” A few seconds passed. The Governor then granted the former felon his voting rights.
While the state can deny persons convicted of a felony the right to vote under the Fourteenth Amendment as construed by the Court in Richardson v. Ramirez (1974), the issue before Judge Walker was whether the vote restoration process was constitutional. Seemingly, the state argued it had absolute discretion to restore voting rights. Judge Walker held that such discretion violated the First Amendment rights to free association and expression, and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
On the First Amendment claim, Judge Walker first articulated the right of free political association and then the right to vote as including a First Amendment right, interestingly relying in part on Citizens United. Judge Walker writes that the unfettered discretion in vote restoration cannot survive exacting scrutiny. Even if the government interest in limiting the franchise to responsible persons is valid, "Florida does not use the least-restrictive means to pursue its interests in preventing possibly irresponsible citizens from choosing their leaders."
Florida’s vote-restoration scheme is crushingly restrictive. The scheme crumbles under strict scrutiny because it risks—if not covertly authorizes the practice of—arbitrary and discriminatory vote-restoration. When a scheme allows government officials to “do whatever [they] want,” viewpoint discrimination can slip through the cracks of a seemingly impartial process. [citing record] Such discrimination can lead to a denial of “the fruits of their association, to wit: [former felons’] political impact”—or widespread, insidious bias to benefit the Governor’s political party. Touchston, 234 F.3d at 1154 (Tjoflat, J., dissenting). State officials’ potential political, racial, or religious biases cannot poison the well of vote-restoration.
Judge Walker discussed several instances of possible discrimination and disparities, but ultimately concluded that it was the possibility of discrimination from unfettered discretion that was crucial. Additionally, the Governor as ultimate arbiter was fatal:
[t]he Governor has de facto veto authority over anyone’s restoration. All the component parts of the vote- restoration process that Defendants wave like shiny objects to distract from potential viewpoint discrimination—the investigations, case analyses, and hearings—mean nothing if the Governor alone has final authority to restore Plaintiffs’ rights.
Further, Judge Walker rejected the State's argument that the vote restoration scheme was akin to unreviewable executive clemency:
Executive clemency by its mere existence cannot serve as a legitimate, let alone compelling, state interest. No serious person would argue that an act of executive clemency that, for example, is motivated by race cannot run afoul of the Constitution simply because it is an act of executive clemency. This Court recognizes the novelty of a challenge to an executive clemency scheme. But “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 177 (1803). And so, if a court finds unconstitutionality in an executive clemency scheme, its role is to strike the acts permitting the constitutional violation—not to declare its hands tied.
On the Equal Protection Clause claim, Judge Walker essentially applied rational basis scrutiny and found that the "violation in this case—the substantial risk of arbitrary and discriminatory vote-restoration based on an applicant’s identity and perceived voting preferences from partisan government officials— is worse than a coin flip." Judge Walker stated that while the state may have a legitimate interest in limiting the franchise to responsible voters, the means chosen failed because it was at best, "arbitrary and disparate," interestingly quoting Bush v. Gore, on which the plaintiffs relied. Judge Walker added that at worst, the scheme would be discriminatory.
Judge Walker ordered additional briefings regarding remedies. Even if the state does not appeal, the question of remedies will be a difficult one.
Meanwhile, a ballot measure to restore voting rights to persons convicted of felonies has just been approved for the November ballot.
Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Friday, January 19, 2018
The United States Supreme Court granted the application of a stay by North Carolina in Rucho v. Common Cause pending appeal of the three judge court decision. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor would have denied the stay.
Recall that a three judge court decision on January 9 gave North Carolina until January 29 to submit a new redistricting plan to the Court after finding that North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering under the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I §§ 2, 4.
Now Common Cause joins the other partisan gerrymandering cases before the Court: Recall that the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford in the earliest days of this Term. Recall also that in early December, the United States Supreme Court added another partisan gerrymandering case to its docket, Benisek v. Lamone.
Thursday, January 18, 2018
The Seventh Circuit ruled that former Illinoisans who now live in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands lacked standing to challenge the federal Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act and lost on the merits in their claims against Illinois after the state rejected their requests for absentee-voter ballots.
The ruling means that former Illinoisans who reside in these territories won't receive an absentee-voter ballot from the state, unless Illinois changes its law.
The plaintiffs, former residents of Illinois but now residents of the territories, sued when Illinois denied them absentee-voter ballots for federal elections in Illinois. They claimed that the UOCAVA and Illinois law defined their territories as part of the United States and thus prohibited them from getting absentee ballots as overseas voters. They claimed that this violated equal protection and their right to travel.
The Seventh Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs didn't even have standing to challenge the UOCAVA. That's because while the UOCAVA defines "the United States" to include these territories, it doesn't prohibit Illinois from providing absentee ballots to the plaintiffs. Illinois law does that. As a result, the court said that the plaintiffs couldn't challenge the federal law, although they could still challenge state law.
As to state law, the court said that Illinois's classification didn't violate equal protection and its denial of absentee ballots didn't violate the right to travel. The court said that the plaintiffs have no fundamental right to vote in federal elections--"absent a constitutional amendment, only residents of the 50 States have the right to vote in federal elections"--and no claim to heightened scrutiny. The court held that Illinois's distinction between Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands (on the one hand) and the Northern Marianas and American Samoa (on the other, where former Illinoisans can get an absentee ballot) passed rational basis review, because at the time that Illinois enacted the distinction, "these two territories were . . . more similar to foreign nations than were the incorporated territories where the plaintiffs reside." (The court said it was OK to look at the state's justification at the time of the distinction, in 1979, instead of now, because "even if . . . the Northern Marianas and American Samoa became more integrated into the United States, it would not help the plaintiffs [who are] injured specifically because Illinois defines their resident territories as within the United States.")
The court summarily rejected the plaintiffs' right-to-travel argument as "borderline frivolous."
Friday, January 12, 2018
The United States Supreme Court has announced it will hear Abbott v. Perez, a redistricting case decided by a three judge court in Texas.
Recall that the lengthy opinion under both the Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act included a finding of intentional racial discrimination by the Texas legislature. The three judge court found that the plaintiffs could demonstrate "either through direct or circumstantial evidence that the government body adopted the electoral scheme with a discriminatory purpose, that the body maintained the scheme with discriminatory purpose, or that the system furthered pre-existing intentional discrimination."
The addition of Abbott v. Perez to the Court's docket heralds the 2017-2018 Term as a major one for redistricting, adding to the partisan gerrymandering cases of Gill v. Whitford (argued in October) and Benisek v. Lamone, and continuing to confront issues of racial gerrymandering as in last term's cases of Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections and Cooper v. Harris.