Wednesday, March 18, 2015
The Fourth Circuit ruled in Greenville County Republican Party v. Greenville County Election Commission that various challenges to South Carolina's municipal election procedures lacked justiciability and dismissed the case.
South Carolina law required municipalities to adopt by ordinance either a partisan or nonpartisan way of nominating candidates for public office in municipal elections. If a municipality selected the partisan method, South Carolina law allowed a certified political party to select one of three procedures: a party primary, a party convention, or a petition. Nomination by party primary required an open primary. Nomination by convention required a 3/4 super-majority vote of the party membership.
The Greenville County Republican Party Executive Committee, an affiliate of the state Republican party but not itself a certified political party, challenged these procedures under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The Committee sought declaratory and injunctive relief, and monetary damages for having to implement the procedures in prior elections.
As the case worked its way up and down, Greenville changed its ordinance to nominate candidates using a nonpartisan procedure.
The Fourth Circuit ruled that this mooted the Committee's claims for prospective relief. In particular, the court said that the County's decision was not capable of repetition but evading review, because the Committee didn't satisfy its burden of establishing "a reasonable expectation" that it wouldn't go back to the partisan method of nominating candidates for future elections.
As to the surviving claims, the court held that the Committee lacked standing. The court said that the Committee didn't suffer any harm from the super-majority requirement for convention-nominated candidates; instead, the state party suffered that harm--making the Committee's claim a nonjusticiable third-party claim. The court also held that the Committee couldn't satisfy the traceability prong of standing, because it was the state party, not Greenville, that elected to use the open primary system. (The state Republican Party was at one time party to the suit, but withdrew.)
The ruling ends this suit, and, in the wake of Greenville's decision to use a nonpartisan nominating process, almost certainly ends any challenges to Greenville's old partisan process.
March 18, 2015 in Association, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fifth Amendment, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Sunday, March 8, 2015
On the 5oth anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery March, President Obama and other dignitaries gathered in Selma to commemorate the iconic protest which is widely believed to have galvanized support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Given the Court's closely divided and controversial 2013 decision in Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder finding parts of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, as well as subsequent efforts by states to enact voting restrictions, Obama not surprisingly included pertinent references in his speech:
And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote. Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.
How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it. If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year. That’s how we honor those on this bridge.
Obama left unelaborated what Congress might do in light of the Court's decision in Shelby. A full text of Obama's speech is here, but the video is worth watching:
Monday, March 2, 2015
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the case testing whether Arizona can use an independent commission (established by voter initiative, not by the legislature) to redraw congressional districts in light of the Election Clause's language that says that "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof . . . ."
At its core, the arguments turn on just how pliable the term "the Legislature" is: Does it mean only the state legislature (as the legislature would have it); or does it also mean the lawmaking power of the state (as the commission would have it)?
The Court and attorneys predictably turned to text and history. The precedent, such as it is, wasn't much help.
Paul Clement, for the legislature, argued that the commission completely cuts the legislature out, by "permanently wresting that authority." It'd be a harder case, he conceded, if there were some role for the legislature. That prompted questions by Justices Kennedy and Kagan about voter-referendum-approved efforts like voter ID, or judge-drawn districts in the context of litigation: Don't those cut the legislature out completely? Clement argued that those initiatives actually delegate authority to the state legislature, not away from it. As to judge-drawn districts (a question from Justice Kennedy), Clement said that the Constitution requires the plan to go to the legislature. They also turned to line-drawing: If "the Legislature" means only the legislature, how can the legislature allow for so many exceptions (that is, how can the legislature allow any role for any other body, like a gubernatorial veto)? And doesn't the legislature still have a role under the commission system? Can't it initiate a referendum? Clement said no to this last point (although he conceded that the legislature could initiate a voter initiate, like anyone else). Still, there was some concern about where and how to draw lines.
The government, as amicus, argued that the legislature lacked standing. But this didn't gain any traction with the Court, and basically fizzled out.
Justices Scalia and Alito hit Seth Waxman, for the commission, with a series of questions about what "the legislature" means in other parts of the Constitution. Justice Kennedy jumped in with the history of state legislative appointments to the Senate, and the overriding Seventeenth Amendment. (It took the Seventeenth Amendment to take state legislatures out of Senate appointments. Why take state legislatures out of congressional line-drawing (without an amendment) here?) Waxman responded that the Court's interpretations favored the commission; but that response didn't seem to satisfy. (Again, the precedent didn't seem to persuade anyone much either way.) When Waxman turned to dictionaries to help him out, Justice Scalia (of all the Justices) pounced: "You've plucked that out of a couple of dictionaries!" Maybe this wasn't so surprising, though: Justice Scalia seemed to believe that he could decide the case on the text alone, and the idea that no other constitutional reference to "the legislature" means anything other than the legislature. Chief Justice Roberts added force when he wondered why Waxman's interpretation didn't make "the Legislature" superfluous. Waxman fell back on an argument that the Framers understood that the same word could mean different things in different contexts, but this point fell flat.
Clement at one point said that the legislature's position wouldn't foreclose the use of an independent commission to draw state legislative boundaries, and that in this way the people (and their commission) could influence the direction of the state legislature and thus influence the state legislature's congressional district map. He also said that it'd be a harder case if the commission didn't completely divest the legislature of all power in the map-drawing process.
If the people of Arizona are looking for a way to influence congressional district maps after this case, these may be all that's left.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Prof. Alan Morrison (GWU) offers his take on Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in this ACS Issue Brief. The case, scheduled for argument on March 2, tests whether Arizona's independent redistricting commission violates the Elections Clause and 2 U.S.C. Sec. 2a(c), and whether the state legislature has standing to bring the challenge.
The state legislature claims that the Commission (created by ballot initiative) violates the Elections Clause because it takes out of the hands of "the Legislature" the "Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives."
Morrison argues that Arizona's commission is the state's "second effort at electoral reform," after the Court struck its public financing system in Arizona Free Enterprise Club's Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett. He says that gerrymandering reformers "should be rooting hard that the Court rejects the position of the Arizona legislature."
We'll post our oral argument preview soon.
Monday, January 26, 2015
The Brennan Center's Daniel Weiner recently released Citizens United Five Years Later, the Center's latest in an outstanding series of reports on Citizens United, campaign spending, and the 2014 elections.
Weiner writes that the case's biggest impact hasn't been increased corporate spending (although corporate spending has increased). Instead, Citizens United and other cases have led to a huge increase in spending by super-wealthy mega-donors:
Perhaps most important, the singular focus on the decision's empowerment of for-profit corporations to spend in (and perhaps dominate) our elections may be misplaced. Although their influence has increased, for-profit corporations have not been the most visible beneficiaries of the Court's jurisprudence. Instead--thanks to super-PACs and a variety of other entities that can raise unlimited funds after Citizens United--the biggest money (that can be traced) has come from an elite club of wealthy mega-donors. These individuals--fewer than 200 people and their spouses--has bankrolled nearly 60 percent of all super-PAC spending since 2010.
And while spending by this wealthy club has exploded, we have seen neither the increased diversity of voices that the Citizens United majority imagined, nor a massive upsurge in total election spending. In fact, for the first time in decades, the total number of reported donors has begun to fall, as has the total contributed by small donors (giving $200 or less). In 2014, the top 100 donors to super-PACs spent almost as much as all 4.75 million small donors combined.
A sobering picture.
Weiner's "can be traced" parenthetical gets some attention in the report, too, where Weiner discusses dark money, "independent" groups, and reporting requirements (or the lack of reporting requirements)--all features of a post-Citizens United world.
Monday, January 19, 2015
ConLawProfBlog's own Prof. Ruthann Robson (CUNY) recently published her thoughtful, creative, and compelling piece on Williams-Yulee, the case testing Florida's ban on campaign contributions by judicial candidates, on the Supreme Court's calendar on Tuesday. Robson's Public Interest Lawyering & Judicial Politics: Four Cases Worth a Second Look in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar is part of Vanderbilt Law Review's Rountable on the case.
Robson takes a refreshing look at the issue of judicial candidate campaign contributions through the eyes of a public interest attorney. Indeed, she starts the piece with a personal testimonial about being solicited herself--and the awkward position that put her in. (Tellingly, her position wasn't so awkward for other, non-public interest attorneys. They simply contributed.)
She argues that public interest lawyers have a special interest in this issue, and in this case. That's because
as public interest attorneys, we are less likely to be able to contribute to judicial campaigns, but may feel more likely to comply with a solicitation because we know our clients are already at a disadvantage. Additionally, our opposing clients and counsel are often those who are precisely in the position of being solicited and of answering those solicitations with substantial contributions.
She makes her case by persuasively arguing for a "second look" at four earlier decisions--newer and older, all touching on judicial integrity--that in different ways illustrate why a ruling for Williams-Yulee (overturning Florida's ban) "would have a disproportionately negative impact on the public interest bar." Those cases are Republican Party of Minnesota v. White (striking Minnesota's rule that prohibited judicial candidates from announcing their views on disputed issues); Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co. (holding that the failure of a state high court judge to recuse himself from a case involving a major donor violated due process); Shelley v. Kraemer (holding that the judiciary is subject to the same constitutional constraints that the other branches are); and In Re Hawkins (Fl. Sup. Ct.) (upholding a sanction of removal from the bench after a judge sold her book to attorneys with cases before her).
Robson's "second look" cases together illustrate why an impartial judiciary, and the appearance of an impartial judiciary, are so important--to the public, to be sure, but especially to public interest attorneys and their clients. They also show how a ruling for Williams-Yulee (a former public defender herself) could so adversely affect the public interest bar.
Robson's piece brings a voice to this case--the voice of the underrepresented and their attorneys--that's all-too-often lost in sterile arguments about free speech. And she shows why the Court should pay attention to that voice.
[Public interest attorneys] should not have to worry whether [judges] think we "support" them, or whether our adversaries "support" them. We should not have to curry favor through financial contributions directly requested by a person who is hearing our client's causes. To do our work, we must continue to have faith that our judges, whether elected or whether appointed to the United States Supreme Court, are not mere politicians.
An excellent piece that adds to the debate. Check it out.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
On Tuesday, January 20, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the closely-watched case of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar involving a First Amendment challenge to a state rule prohibiting the personal solicitation of campaign contributions in a judicial election. Our discussion of the grant of certiorari is here.
Vanderbilt Law Review has published its "Roundtable" symposium about the pending case. It includes:
The Absent Amicus: “With Friends Like These . . .”
Robert M. O’Neil · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 1 (2015).
Public Interest Lawyering & Judicial Politics: Four Cases Worth a Second Look in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
Ruthann Robson · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 15 (2015).
Much Ado About Nothing: The Irrelevance of Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar on the Conduct of Judicial Elections
Chris W. Bonneau & Shane M. Redman · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 31 (2015).
Williams-Yulee and the Inherent Value of Incremental Gains in Judicial Impartiality
David W. Earley & Matthew J. Menendez · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 43 (2015).
Judicial Elections, Judicial Impartiality and Legitimate Judicial Lawmaking: Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar
Stephen J. Ware · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 59 (2015).
The Jekyll and Hyde of First Amendment Limits on the Regulation of Judicial Campaign Speech
Charles Gardner Geyh · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 83 (2015).
What Do Judges Do All Day? In Defense of Florida’s Flat Ban on the Personal Solicitation of Campaign Contributions From Attorneys by Candidates for Judicial Office
Burt Neuborne · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 99 (2015).
Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, the First Amendment, and the Continuing Campaign to Delegitimize Judicial Elections
Michael E. DeBow & Brannon P. Denning · 68 Vand. L. Rev. En Banc 113 (2015).
January 15, 2015 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Scholarship, Speech, Supreme Court (US), Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in the case challenging Alabama's re-drawing of its state legislative districts after the 2010 census. The case pits a claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act against a defense under Section 5, although the constitutionality of those provisions is not (directly) at issue in the case.
Alabama redrew its state legislative districts after the 2010 census in order to maintain equal population across districts (within 2 percent), to maintain the existing number of majority-minority districts, and to maintain the existing percentage of black voters in those majority-minority districts. But the state's demographics shifted so that in order to achieve those goals the state had to pack black voters into existing majority-minority districts. The net result was to consolidate minority voting power in these majority-minority districts, but to enhance Republicans' power in the rest of the state.
Democrats and black legislators and groups sued, arguing that the re-districting plans violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and amounted to racial and political gerrymanders. The state countered that it was compelled to draw the districts this way under Section 5 of the VRA in order to preserve majority-minority districts and to avoid retrogression. (The irony of Alabama using Section 5 as a shield after it so vigorously attacked Section 5 in Shelby County has escaped no one.)
The three-judge district court divided along party lines--the two judges appointed by a Republican president ruling for the state, and the lone judge appointed by a Democrat dissenting.
The case pits the plaintiffs' Section 2 claim against the state's Section 5-based reason for the districts. The state's position--that Section 5 made them do it--is part of a larger trend of states applying "not the Voting Rights Act, but a hamhanded cartoon of the Voting Rights Act--substituting blunt numerical demographic targets for the searching examination of local political conditions that the statute actually demands," according to Loyola's (Los Angeles) Justin Levitt. The state's position also potentially puts the constitutionality of Section 5 before the Court: If Section 5 requires race-based decisions like this, isn't it unconstitutional? That question isn't squarely before the Court, but it's certainly lingering behind the curtains.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
In addition to the candidates, Tuesday's ballots contained a wide variety of proposed state constitutional amendments--from protecting and curtailing fundamental rights, to taxes, to structure and governance issues.
Maybe most notably, Colorado and North Dakota voters rejected a personhood amendment, while Tennessee voters approved an amendment giving lawmakers more power to regulate abortions.
Here's a sampling of other approved amendments:
Alabama voters passed an amendment to ban the use of foreign law in state courts, and another one to strengthen the state's constitutional right to hunt.
Illinois voters passed an amendment banning discrimination in the vote and another one that expands the rights of crime victims in the criminal justice system.
Mississippi voters aproved an amendment creating a right to hunt and fish.
Missouri voters approved an amendment to make it easier to prosecute sex crimes against children, and another one to limit the governor's ability to withhold money from the state budget.
North Carolina voters approved an amendment allowing criminal defendants to choose a judge or a jury trial.
South Carolina voters approved an amendment allowing certain nonprofits to hold raffles and use proceeds for charitable causes, and another allowing the governor to appoint the head of the South Carolina National Guard with consent of the Senate.
Tennessee approved four amendments: one to give lawmakers more power to regulate and restrict abortions; two to give more power to the governor in appointing judges (and to take that power away from a judicial nominating commission); three to forbid a state income tax; and four to allow the legislature to authorize lotteries to certain nonprofits.
Utah voters passed an amendment clarifying the term of an appointed lieutenant governor.
Virginia voters approved an amendment that exempts from local property taxes the home of a surviving spouse of an armed forces member who was killed in action.
Wisconsin voters approved an amendment that prevents governors and legislators from using state transportation funds for other purposes.
Here's a sampling of rejected amendments:
Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a personhood amendment.
Florida voters rejected a medical marijuana amendment. (Voters in other states also voted on marijuana initiatives, but Florida's was a proposed constitutional amendment.)
Idaho voters rejected an amendment that would allow the legislature to veto rules put in place by executive branch agencies.
Missouri voters rejected an amendment to evaluate K-12 teachers based on student performance instead of seniority, and another amendment to create a limited early voting period.
North Carolina voters rejected a personhood amendment.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
The Supreme Court today rejected the applications by the Justice Department and civil rights groups to vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay of a district judge's injunction against Texas's voter ID law, SB 14. The ruling means that Texas can implement voter ID under SB 14 in the fall elections.
The brief, unsigned order simply rejected the applications for a stay.
But Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan. Justice Ginsburg distinguished the Texas case from the North Carolina and Ohio cases, writing that "[n]either application involved, as this case does, a permanent injunction following a full trial and resting on an extensive record from which the District Court found ballot-access discrimination by the State." She also wrote that the Fifth Circuit didn't properly defer to the district court ruling, and that halting SB 14 wouldn't cause disruption or confusion in the election (the Fifth Circuit's principal reason for rejecting the district court's injunction).
Justice Ginsburg also reviewed the district court ruling striking SB 14, and noted that it failed preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (pre-Shelby County). She concluded,
The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters. To prevent that disenfranchisement, I would vacate the Fifth Circuit's stay of the permanent injunction ordered by the District Court.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
The Arkansas Supreme Court yesterday struck the state's voter ID requirement under the state constitution. The unanimous ruling means that Arkansas will not use Act 595's voter ID requirements in the upcoming elections.
The ruling is based on state constitutional law only, and therefore won't and can't be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
The state high court ruled that Act 595's voter ID requirement added a voter requirement to those set in the state constitution. Arkansas's constitution, art. 3, Section 1, says,
Except as otherwise provided by this Constitution, any person may vote in an election in this state who is:
(1) A citizen of the United States;
(2) A resident of the State of Arkansas;
(3) At least eighteen (18) years of age; and
(4) Lawfully registered to vote in the election.
The court said, "These four qualifications set forth in our state's constitution simply do not include any proof-of-identity requirement." The court struck Act 595 on its face.
The court also rejected the argument that voter ID was simply a procedural method of identifying a voter, and therefore constitutional under a state constitutional provision allowing such methods:
We do not interpret Act 595's proof-of-identity requirement as a procedural means of determining whether an Arkansas voter can 'lawfully register to vote in the election.' Ark. Const. art. 3, Sec. 1(4). Under those circumstances, Act 595 would erroneously necessitate every lawfully registered voter in Arkansas to requalify themselves in each election.
Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson concurred in the result, but because Act 595 failed to get a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the legislature as required by a 1964 amendment to the constitution that sets the requirements for identification and registration of voters (and does not include photo ID) and allows for legislative amendment of those requirements if the legislature votes by two-thirds in both houses.
The Fifth Circuit this week stayed an earlier district court judgment and injunction against Texas's voter ID law, SB 14. Unless the Supreme Court steps in, this means that SB 14 will apply to November's elections.
The Fifth Circuit action is not a ruling on the merits, however. Instead, it preserves the status quo under SB 14, pending appeal of the district court judgment to the Fifth Circuit.
The court said that changing the rules so close to the election risks too much confusion: "The judgment below substantially disturbs the election process of the State of Texas just nine days before early voting begins. Thus, the value of preserving the status quo here is much higher than in most other contexts." (Early voting starts on Monday in Texas.)
This is just the latest of four cases challenging state elections laws that has gone to the Supreme Court this fall, just before the elections, all on emergency applications related to lower court injunctions, and not on the merits. The Court halted Wisconsin's voter ID law; it allowed restrictions on early voting in Ohio; and it allowed restrictions on same-day voter registration and voting in the wrong precinct in North Carolina.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos (S.D. Tex.) ruled today that Texas's new voter ID law violated the Constitution and entered "a permanent and final injunction against enforcement of the voter identification provisions . . . of SB 14." Judge Ramos concluded that "SB 14 creates an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, has an impermissible discriminatory effect against Hispanics and African-Americans, and was imposed with an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose." Judge Ramos also held that "SB 14 constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax."
Judge Ramos ordered Texas to "return to enforcing the voter identification requirements for in-person voting in effect immediately prior to the enactment and implementation of SB 14."
The ruling comes the same day as the Supreme Court vacated an earlier Seventh Circuit stay of a district court injunction against Wisconsin's voter ID law.
The Supreme Court this evening vacated the Seventh Circuit stay of an earlier district court injunction halting Wisconsin's voter ID law. (The Seventh Circuit upheld the state's voter ID law earlier this week.) This latest chapter in this dizzying case means that Wisconsin will almost surely not have voter ID in the upcoming elections. It also means that the Court may once again take up voter ID.
The Supreme Court order was brief, just one page, and said only that "the Seventh Circuit's stay of the district court's permanent injunction injunction is vacated pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari . . . ." The stay will terminate if the Court denies cert.
Justice Alito dissented, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. Justice Alito wrote that the Seventh Circuit's ruling wasn't unreasonable, or "demonstrably" erroneous. Justice Alito alluded to the problem of absentee ballots going out without a notice of the voter ID requirement, suggesting that these problems may have driven the Court to intervene.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (D.D.C.) this week rejected a non-profit's challenge to the disclosure provisions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. The ruling was unsurprising, even if the case may be noteworthy, as it represents a next wave of challenges to campaign finance regulation.
The Independence Institute, a Colorado non-profit, sought declaratory and injunctive relief against FEC enforcement of BCRA's disclosure requirement as applied to a specific radio ad that the Institute planned to run before the fall elections. The Institute argued that the requirement was overbroad as applied, because the planned ad was genuine issue advocacy, and not express advocacy.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly was blunt in rejecting this argument:
This dispute can be distilled to the application of the Supreme Court's clear instructions in Citizens United: in no uncertain terms, the Supreme Court rejected the attempt to limit BCRA's disclosure requirements to express advocacy and its functional equivalent. Plaintiff in this case seeks the same relief that has already been foreclosed by Citizens United.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly then rejected the Institute's attempts to distinguish Citizens United, ruled in favor of the FEC, and upheld the disclosure requirement.
This ruling was hardly surprising: if a court is going to overturn disclosure requirements, it'll have to be the Supreme Court. Still, the case should get our attention as a next-wave challenge to campaign speech regulation--the challenge to disclosure requirements.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
The Supreme Court today stayed the preliminary injunction ordered by the Fourth Circuit against North Carolina's elimination of same-day voter registration and the state's elimination of voting in an incorrect precinct. The ruling means that North Carolina will not have same-day voter registration or allow voting in an incorrect precinct in the fall elections. Still, the underlying merits case will move forward at the district court.
The case is notable, because North Carolina enacted its restrictions on voting immediately after the Supreme Court struck the coverage formula for preclearance under the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County. The move suggested that the state itself thought that its law wouldn't achieve preclearance. It illustrates the sweep and practical effects of the Shelby County ruling.
Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented from the stay, arguing that the Fourth Circuit was right to enjoin the provisions, and that North Carolina's evidence comparing African-American turnout in the 2010 primary election (relatively low) with African-American turnout in the 2014 primary (relatively high, and under the changes at issue in the case) was flawed, because primary voting patterns are not representative of general election voting patterns.
A divided three-judge district court in the Eastern District of Virginia ruled that the district lines for Virginia's Third Congressional District violated equal protection. The court left the district in place for the fall elections, but ordered the state legislature to redraw the boundaries in the next legislative session.
The ruling tests whether and when a state's use of race to increase the percentage of racial minority voters in a district above the pre-existing percentage--for the stated reason to avoid retrogression under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (pre-Shelby County)--violates equal protection.
In other words: When can a state pack racial minority voters into a district in a way that dillutes their influence elsewhere, in the name of compliance with Section 5 of the VRA?
A similar issue is now before the Supreme Court in the Alabama cases, set for oral argument on November 12. We'll have an argument preview and review.
The legislature drew Virginia's Third in 2012 with an eye toward satisfying the non-retrogression standard in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. (At the time, before Shelby County struck the coverage formula for Section 5, Virginia was a covered jurisdiction.) In particular, the legislature used a 55 percent floor for the percentage of persons of voting age who identified as African America (the "BVAP"), so that the district wouldn't fall below a 55 percent BVAP. The legislature then increased the BVAP from 53.1 percent (the BVAP in the old district, the benchmark, under the 2000 census) to 56.3 percent (the BVAP in the redrawn district, based on the 2010 census). DOJ precleared the plan under Section 5 (again, before Shelby County).
Plaintiffs sued, arguing that the plan was a racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
The court ruled that legislative history and circumstantial evidence showed that the predominant purpose of the plan was race, and that the plan was subject to strict scrutiny. The court assumed, without deciding, that compliance with Section 5 was a compelling state interest before the Court struck Section 4 in Shelby County, but ruled that the redrawn district wasn't narrowly tailored to meet that interest. In particular, the court, citing Bush, said that the BVAP increase wasn't narrowly tailored "when the district had been a safe majority-minority district for two decades." The court wrote that "[w]hile the BVAP increase here is small than in Bush [where a plurality of the Supreme Court held that a BVAP increase from 35.1 percent to 50.9 percent wasn't narrowly tailored to achieve non-retrogression], the principle is the same." The court also said that the legislature's use of a 55 percent BVAP threshold (as a baseline below which the district could not fall), as opposed to some other analysis of racial voting patterns, wasn't narrowly tailored.
Judge Payne dissented.
Unless and until there's an appeal, Virginia's Third will stay the shape of the 2012 plan for the 2014 elections. But the legislature will have to redraw it next year.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
In the latest, and almost certainly last, chapter of the case challenging Wisconsin's voter ID law, a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit upheld the law and reversed a district court permanent injunction against it. Once again, the upshot is that Wisconsin will have voter ID for the fall elections.
The ruling was hardly a surprise, given the Seventh Circuit's history with this case. Recall that the same three-judge panel earlier stayed the district court ruling and injunction, and the full court declined to rehear that decision. This most recent ruling resolves the merits and almost certainly closes the case.
The court ruled that the challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law was virtually indistinguishable from the challenge to Indiana's voter ID in Crawford v. Marion County. Recall that the Supreme Court in that case upheld Indiana's voter ID law, because the plaintiffs didn't show that it would significantly impede citizens' ability to vote, and because the government had rational reasons for it. The Seventh Circuit said for the very same reasons that Wisconsin's voter ID law did not violate the constitutional right to vote. Indeed, the court noted that this was probably an easier case than Crawford.
The court also rejected the plaintiffs' claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The court said that any racial disparity in possessing a voter ID was not due to discriminatory intent or to any factors (like ability to obtain voter ID, or a person's ability to pay for it) that the state had control over. The court also rejected the plaintiffs' disparate impact claim, concluding that the numerical disparity alone (between voter ID for voters of different races) wasn't sufficient to show a violation.
Finally, the court said that the distrinct court injunction--"perpetual and unconditional"--swept far too broadly. But in the end, that didn't matter, because the court upheld voter ID on the merits.
Monday, October 6, 2014
Wendy R. Weiser of the Brennan Center writes in The American Prospect that "[f]or the first time in decades, voters in nearly half the country will find it harder to cast a ballot in the upcoming elections." Weiser goes on to detail vote restrictions--and the court battles challenging them--in the run-up to the fall elections. Her conclusion:
These changes are the product of a concerted push to restrict voting by legislative majorities that swept into office in 2010. They represent a sharp reversal for a country whose historic trajectory has been to expand voting rights and make the process more convenient and accessible.
Weiser shows how these restrictions fall most heavily on racial minorities.
At the same time, Eric Garcia writes in The New Republic on the financial costs of voter ID. Garcia cites a report from Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice that puts the total cost of obtaining voter ID anywhere between $75 to $400 per person and the costs for states administering voter ID in the millions, even tens and scores of millions for larger states.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
A divided panel of the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court ruling that declined to enjoin North Carolina's voting law under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. We posted on the district court case, with more background and links, here. (Recall that North Carolina moved swiftly to put this law into place after the Supreme Court struck the coverage formula for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County. The move suggested that North Carolina itself thought that the law, or portions of it, wouldn't pass muster under Section 5, but that it would pass a Section 2 challenge.)
The ruling means that the state's elimination of same day registration and prohibition on counting out-of-precinct ballots are preliminarily enjoined during the pendancy of the case, but that the other portions of the law are not. Thus, the following provisions will go into effect pending the outcome of the merits case: (1) the state's reduction of early voting days; (2) expansion of allowable voter challengers; (3) elimination of discretion of county boards of election to keep polls open an additional hour on election day; (4) the elimination of pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds; (5) and the "soft" roll-out of voter identification requirements.
Unless the full Fourth Circuit or the Supreme Court steps in (and quick), that'll be the situation for the fall election. (The North Carolina AG reportedly said he'd appeal.)
The majority was quick to remind us that this is is not a final ruling on the merits, and does not speak to the underlying merits challenge. That case is still plugging forward in the district court.
The majority pulled no punches when it wrote that "the district court got the law plainly wrong in several crucial respects." It went on to identify, point by point, eight seperate ways the lower court misinterpreted and misapplied Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Perhaps most importantly, the court said that the district court misinterpreted the Section 2 standard in relation to Section 5:
First, the district court bluntly held that "Section 2 does not incorporate a 'retrogression' standard" and that the court therefore was "not concerned with whether the elimination of [same-day registration and other features] will worsen the position of minority voters in comparison to the preexisting voting standard, practice or procedure--a Section 5 inquiry."
Contrary to the district court's statement, Section 2, on its face, requires a broad "totality of the circumstances" review. Clearly, an eye toward past practices is part and parcel of the totality of the circumstances
Further, as the Supreme Court noted, "some parts of the [Section] 2 analysis may overlap with the [Section] 5 inquiry. . . .
The issue goes to the relevant baseline: Should the court measure a voting change with reference to the state's immediately preceding practice, or with reference to some other, lower baseline? (The issue came up recently in the Ohio early voting case, too.) The Fourth Circuit said that Section 2's totality-of-the-circumstances analysis requires a court to judge a voting change with reference to the state's prior practice. That, along with the rest of the totality of the circumstances, meant that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their challenges to the two portions of the North Carolina law that the court enjoined.
The Supreme Court will consider its first Section 2 case after Shelby County this Term--the Alabama redistricting cases. We'll likely get a better sense from that case how the current Court will analyze a Section 2 challenge--and how (and whether) it overlaps with the Section 5 standard.
Judge Motz dissented, emphasizing the high standard for a preliminary injunction, the timing of the case (right before the election), and the problems with implementation and potential confusion.