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.
Monday, September 29, 2014
An equally divided en banc Seventh Circuit on Friday denied review of a three-judge panel decision that stayed an earlier district court ruling and injunction against Wisconsin's voter ID law. The upshot is that Wisconsin's voter ID law will be in effect this election.
The court's decision was brief, but said that "[i]n coming days, members of the court may file opinions explaining their votes."
Chief Judge Wood and Judges Posner, Rovner, Williams, and Hamilton voted to hear the matter en banc. Judges Flaum, Easterbrook, Kanne, Sykes, and Tinder voted against.
The court hasn't yet issued a ruling on the merits.
In a closely divided vote, the United States Supreme Court has issued a stay of the Sixth Circuit's affirmance of an injunction that would require early voting to begin in Ohio tomorrow, September 30.
Here's the entire Order:
The application for stay presented to Justice Kagan and by her referred to the Court is granted, and the district court’s September 4, 2014 order granting a preliminary injunction is stayed pending the timely filing and disposition of a petition for a writ of certiorari. Should the petition for a writ of certiorari be denied, this stay shall terminate automatically. In the event the petition for a writ of certiorari is granted, the stay shall terminate upon the sending down of the judgment of this Court.
Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Sotomayor, and Justice Kagan would deny the application for stay.
Friday, September 26, 2014
With quick dispatch, the Sixth Circuit has issued its unanimous opinion in Ohio State Conference of the NAACP v. Husted, affirming District Judge Peter Economus's decision earlier this month issuing a preliminary injunction enjoining the Ohio legislature's amendments to the election code that limited early in-person voting.
The Sixth Circuit rejected Ohio Secretary of State Husted's claim that the district judge's extensive findings of fact were clearly erroneous. Likewise, the Sixth Circuit rejected the argument that the district judge should have applied rational basis scrutiny in the equal protection claim, holding that the district judge was correct in applying the "flexible Anderson-Burdick" test, articulated as
A court considering a challenge to a state election law must weigh “the character and magnitude of the asserted injury to the rights protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments that the plaintiff seeks to vindicate” against “the precise interests put forward by the State as justifications for the burden imposed by its rule,” taking into consideration “the extent to which those interests make it necessary to burden the plaintiffs’ rights.”
Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 434 (1992). The Sixth Circuit moreover found that the district judge applied the test correctly. The opinion specifically discussed Ohio's asserted justifications - - - preventing voter fraud, containing costs, and uniformity - - - and found that Ohio did not demonstrate that these interests outweighed the burdens on voters.
In the last third of the opinion, the court analyzed the Section 2, Voting Rights claim (Voting Rights Act of 1965, 42 U.S.C. § 1973), again agreeing with the district judge.
This means that the Sixth Circuit validated the district judge's order requiring early voting provisions that become effective in just a few days, on September 30.
Ohio has already filed an application to the United States Supreme Court for a stay. As Sixth Circuit Justice, Justice Kagan may rule on the application or refer it to the full Court.
Monday, September 22, 2014
A call that should be of interest to many ConLawProfs:
Policing, Protesting, and Perceptions:
A Critical Examination of the Events in Ferguson
at the University of Missouri
Here are some details on the call for works-in-progress:
The University of Missouri Law Review is issuing a call for proposals for an upcoming Works-in-Progress conference, which will be held on Thursday, February 26, 2015 in conjunction with the Missouri Law Review’s Symposium, which will take place the following day Friday, February 27, 2015. The symposium, "Policing, Protesting, and Perceptions: A Critical Examination of the Events in Ferguson," focuses on a number of issues that arose from the events in Ferguson, Missouri this past August following the shooting of Michael Brown, and will include a number of invited panelists. Marc Mauer, the Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, will deliver the keynote address. On Thursday, February 26, 2015, the Missouri Law Review will host several works-in-progress panels related to the subject matter of the symposium.
If you interested, we would ask that you submit a presentation proposal. Presentation proposals should be no more than one page in length. The topic of the presentation can include analyses that are practical, theoretical or interdisciplinary in nature relating to what transpired in Ferguson, MO. Proposals from scholars outside the United States are also welcome, although prospective attendees should note that there is no funding available to assist participants with their travel expenses. Proposals for the works-in-progress will be accepted until November 15, 2014. Those interested may submit proposals and direct questions to Professor S. David Mitchell (MitchellSD AT missouri.edu). Decisions regarding accepted proposals will be made by December 1, 2014.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit last week threw a wrench into the November election in Wisconsin by staying an earlier district court ruling and injunction against the state's voter ID law, thus allowing the law to take effect immediately. The problem: some people have already cast absentee ballots without providing ID. More: some 11,800 voters requested absentee ballots before the panel's ruling, and thus under the assumption that they wouldn't have to provide ID. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the director of the state Government Accountability Board is directing clerks to contact voters who requested an absentee ballot and tell them they need to provide an ID. He said that absentee ballots from voters who do not provide IDs won't be counted.
And this says nothing about the inevitable confusion at the polls.
There's another problem, the original one that sparked the litigation in the first place. That is, some 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin, mostly poor and disproportionately racial minorities, lack a qualifying ID for voting, according to U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman, who ruled in an exhaustive opinion last April that the law was unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement.
The Seventh Circuit panel order undoes Judge Adelman's injunction. The panel wrote that
[a]fter [Judge Adelman's] decision, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin revised the procedures to make it easier for persons who have difficulty affording any fees to obtain the birth certificates or other documentation needed under the law, or to have the need for documentation waived. This reduces the likelihood of irreparable injury . . . . The panel has concluded that the state's probability of success on the merits of this appeal is sufficiently great that the state should be allowed to implement its law, pending further order of this court.
While the panel's brief, one-page order is not a final ruling on the merits (that will come "in due course"), it presages the likely final merits ruling.
But the most recent move by the plaintiffs may preempt that. The plaintiffs asked the full en banc Seventh Circuit to review the panel's decision. The full bench would have to act quickly, because the absentee election is already underway.
The Seventh Circuit is the same court that upheld Indiana's voter ID law, later also upheld by the Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion County. (That law, according to the panel last week, is "materially identical" to Wisconsin's law). But Judge Posner (who was on the panel in the Indiana case, but not on the panel in the Wisconsin case) wrote last year that Indiana's voter ID law is "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention," suggesting that his opinion on voter ID changed. We may find out, if the full Seventh Circuit takes up the case.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
In his 71 page opinion in Ohio State Conference of the NAACP v. Husted, Judge Peter Economus has issued a preliminary injunction enjoining the Ohio legislature's amendments to the election code that limited early in-person voting.
This opinion is the latest installment in the early voting controversies in Ohio. Recall that Judge Economus issued an order and opinion two years ago enjoining the enforcement of new Ohio legislation and specifically restoring in-person early voting on the three days preceding Election Day for all eligible voters. The Sixth Circuit, in its opinion in Obama for America v. Husted, upheld the injunction.
After that controversy, the Ohio legislature enacted SB 238, which had the effect of eliminating the so-called "Golden Week," the period when citizens could both register to vote and cast their ballots at the same time. The Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, also issued directives setting uniform early in-person (EIP) voting hours for the entire state, eliminating evening voting hours and most Sunday voting during the EIP periods.
Much of the judge's opinion considers the various expert and other evidence regarding the effect of these changes. Ultimately, Judge Economus found that the changes violated the equal protection rights of certain groups, relying heavily on the Sixth Circuit's opinion in Obama for America v. Husted and Bush v. Gore.
Here's the judge's penultimate paragraph on the equal protection claim:
The Court must now weigh the significant burdens placed on voting by SB 238 and Directive 2014-17 against the offered justifications. As stated above, the Court has found these justifications to be relatively hollow, and, in some cases, not necessarily supported by logic. Accordingly, while the burdens imposed on the voting rights of African Americans, lower income voters, and the homeless are not severe, it cannot be said that they are outweighed by the offered justifications. For instance, there is virtually nothing in the record tending to justify why a uniform voting schedule could not include evening voting hours and additional Sunday voting, especially considering that such voting opportunities have been successfully offered by individual counties in past elections. While the Defendants have frequently noted that Ohio’s system of absentee voting is one of the most expansive in the entire Country, one of the touchstones of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection guarantee in the context of voting rights is that actions of a State must “avoid arbitrary and disparate treatment of the members of its electorate.” Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 105 (2000). Here, despite the expansiveness of Ohio’s voting system, the weakness of the offered justifications supporting SB 238 and Directive 2014-17 render them essentially arbitrary action when viewed against the burdens they impose on groups of voters. Such action is prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause. Thus, the Court’s conclusions regarding the Plaintiffs’ Equal Protection claim are easily summarized as follows: SB 238 and Directive 2014-17 arbitrarily make it harder for certain groups of citizens to vote.
On the nonconstitutional claim, §2 of the Voting Rights Act, the judge likewise found that there was a substantial likelihood that the challengers could prevail on the merits of their claim.
The judge entered a preliminary injunction regarding early voting for the November 2014 election, the first provisions of which are effective September 30. If the state is to appeal, it will need to move quickly.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Judge Thomas D. Schroeder (M.D. N. Carolina) rejected the plaintiffs' motions for a preliminary injunction against portions of the North Carolina Voter Information Verification Act. But at the same time, Judge Schroeder rejected the state's motion to dismiss the case. The ruling means that the case will go forward, but the law will stay in place in the meantime. That'll give the plaintiffs a second bite at the apple, later, at trial; but the voting changes in the law will affect the upcoming fall elections.
Recall that North Carolina, a previously partially covered jurisdiction under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, moved swiftly to tighten its voting laws, and to impose new restrictions on voting in the state, right after the Supreme Court struck Section 5 in Shelby County. Plaintiffs immediately filed suit, challenging some of these restrictions under Section 2 of the VRA, and the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments. The United States filed its own case making similar arguments and asking the court for appointment of federal observers to monitor future elections in North Carolina under Section 3 of the VRA. The court consolidated the cases.
The plaintiffs, taken together, challenged these provisions: Reduction of early voting from 17 to 10 days; elimination of same-day registration during the early voting period; a prohibition on the counting of provisional ballots cast outside of a voter's correct voting precinct on Election Day; expansion of allowable poll observers and voter challenges; elimination of discretion of county boards of election to keep polls open an additional our on Election Day in "extraordinary circumstances"; and elimination of pre-registration of 16- and 17-year olds.
In a lengthy and detailed ruling, Judge Schroeder concluded that the plaintiffs stated a claim (and thus denied the defendant's motion to dismiss), but didn't demonstrate a strong enough likelihood of success (on their challenge to the same-day registration and out-of-precinct provisional voting claims) or irreparable harm (on the other claims) to qualify for a preliminary injunction:
The only election slated before trial is the November 2014 general election. As to [the Act's] reduction of early-voting days from 17 to ten, the parties acknowledge, and history demonstrates, that turnout for the fall election will likely be significantly lower than that in presidential years. The evidence presented, in light of the law's requirements for counties to provide the same number of aggregate voting hours as in the comparable previous election under prior law, fails to demonstrate that it is likely the State will have inadequate polling resources available to accommodate all voters for this election. The court expresses no view as to the effect of the reduction in early voting on other elections. As to the voter ID provisions, Plaintiffs only challenged the "soft rollout," which the court does not find will likely cause irreparable harm, and not the photo ID requirement, as to which the court also expresses no view.
Judge Schroeder also rejected the governments request for appointed observers.
Still, Judge Schroeder recognized the strength of the plaintiffs' claims in light of North Carolina's history, at one point writing, "Simply put, in light of the historical struggle for African-Americans' voting rights, North Carolinians have reason to be wary of changes to voting laws."
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
The Brennan Center released a report this week on the state of voting in the run-up to the 2014 election. Among the highlights:
- Since 2010, 22 states have implemented new voting restrictions, including voter ID requirements, requirements that make registration harder, restrictions on early voting, and restrictions on restoring voting rights for people with past criminal convictions. The report says that "[p]artisanship played a key role" and that "[r]ace was also a significant factor" in enacting restrictions. The 2014 election will be the first election for new restrictions in 15 states, possibly leading to problems on Election Day as those states implement the restrictions for the first time.
- There are ongoing cases challenging restrictions in seven states--Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. More may come.
- Since 2012, 16 states have passed laws to make it easier to vote, including laws that modernize registration, inrease early voting opportunities, allow pre-restration of 16- and 17-year-olds, restore voting rights to people with past convictions, ease voter ID burdens, and expand access by language and absentee voting. These laws will be in effect in 11 states in the 2014 election.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Unanimous Supreme Court Returns Susan B Anthony List v. Driehaus for Decision on Election Law Merits
The Court's unanimous opinion in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus, a challenge to an Ohio election law prohibiting false statements, reversed the Sixth Circuit's determination that the case was not ripe. Recall that Driehaus had filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission about an advertisement from Susan B. Anthony List, but the Sixth Circuit held the SB List could not show "an imminent threat of prosecution at the hands of any defendant" and thus could not "show a likelihood of harm to establish that its challenge is ripe for review."
As we discussed after oral argument, the Justices seemed inclined to find the courts had Article III power to hear the case, although there was some doctrinal fuzziness whether the case should be analyzed as one of "standing" or one of "ripeness." Footnote 5 of the opinion by Justice Thomas for the Court resolves the question firmly in favor of standing:
The doctrines of standing and ripeness “originate” from the same Article III limitation. DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U. S. 332, 335 (2006). As the parties acknowledge, the Article III standing and ripeness issues in this case “boil down to the same question.” Med- Immune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 549 U. S. 118, 128, n. 8 (2007); see Brief for Petitioners 28; Brief for Respondents 22. Consistent with our practice in cases like Virginia v. American Booksellers Assn., Inc., 484 U. S. 383, 392 (1988), and Babbitt v. Farm Workers, 442 U. S. 289, 299, n. 11 (1979), we use the term “standing” in this opinion.
The Court reiterated the established criteria: (1) an "injury in fact" (2) a sufficient “causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of,” and (3) a likelihood that the injury “will be redressed by a favorable decision," noting that the hurdle for the organization of Susan B. Anthony List was the "injury in fact" requirement. To establish "injury in fact," the organization had to demonstrate the threat of future prosecution by the election board was sufficiently "concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical,’” and "certainly impending,” or there is a “‘substantial risk’ that the harm will occur.”
The shadow of the First Amendment was apparent in the Court's reasoning: "The burdens that [Election] Commission proceedings can impose on electoral speech are of particular concern here."
The Court's relatively short and unanimous opinion breaks no new ground. It draws on establishing standing precedent which it applies in a relatively straightforward manner, and then quickly dispatches the "prudential" rationale for rejecting jurisdiction.
However, it's worth considering as a contrast a case uncited by the Court - - - Los Angeles v. Lyons (1983) - - - in which a deeply divided Court decided that Adolph Lyons did not have standing to challenge the City of Los Angeles police department's sometimes fatal practice of administering a "chokehold" to persons it stopped for traffic violations. As Justice Marshall wrote in the dissenting opinion (joined by Justices Brennan, Blackmun, and Stevens):
Since no one can show that he will be choked in the future, no one — not even a person who, like Lyons, has almost been choked to death — has standing to challenge the continuation of the policy. The city is free to continue the policy indefinitely as long as it is willing to pay damages for the injuries and deaths that result. I dissent from this unprecedented and unwarranted approach to standing.
Perhaps Susan B. Anthony List demonstrates that Justice Marshall's view has proven to be correct and that Lyons can now be disregarded. Or perhaps, studies such as this and this are correct that the status of Susan B. Anthony List as an anti-abortion organization and the status of Adolph Lyons as an African-America male confronting law enforcement are just as important as doctrine.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
In her relatively brief essay Hobby Lobby and the Pathology of Citizens United, available on ssrn, Professor Ellen Katz (pictured) advances a doctrinal and jurisprudential argument - - - rather than political or consequentialist ones - - - for the "danger" of Citizens United v. FEC.
Citizens United read a number of prior decisions to adopt rules those decisions deliberately chose not to espouse. This is not an entirely new move for the Court as it has previously cast off a decision’s doctrinal limits and stated normative claims. The contribution of Citizens United, however, was to normalize this stance. The Roberts Court seems increasingly comfortable approaching precedent just as it did in that case. This Essay identifies this move as a consistent practice across a number of decisions, and explains both why it is likely to be used in the pending ACA cases and beyond, and why it is cause for deep concern.
It is a phenomenon Katz labels "fanciful precedent." She contends it was operative in last Term's controversial Shelby County v. Holder.
She argues that it was prominent in Citizens United related to the Court's use of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (an issue of footnotes as we discuss here and here), in a manner that might foreshadow any Robert Court opinion in Hobby Lobby "relying" on United States v. Lee and Braunfeld v. Brown.
Katz's short piece is worth a read as we await the Court's decision in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (and Conestoga Woods Specialties, Corp. v. Sebelius) argued in March.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
The Ninth Circuit yesterday rejected a challenge to California's political contribution disclosure requirement by a group of political committees that backed Prop 8, the state constitutional ballot initiative that defined marriage only as between one man and one woman. The ruling means that the California's disclosure requirement stays in place, and that Prop 8 Committees have to comply.
The Prop 8 Committees in ProtectMarriage.com v. Bowen challenged California's requirement that political committees disclose contributors who contribute more than $100, even after a campaign, arguing that some of their contributors had been harassed. The Prop 8 Committees challenged the requirement both on its face and as applied.
The court rejected the challenges. It applied the familiar "exacting scrutiny" standard to disclosures--that the requirement (and the burden it imposes) bears a "substantial relation" to a "sufficiently important" government interest. As to the facial challenge, the court said that the state obviously had sufficiently important interests in disclosure during the campaign, and that the state still had sufficiently important interests even after the campaign:
A state's interests in contribution disclosure do not necessarily end on election day. Even if a state's interest in disseminating accurate information to voters is lessened after the election takes place, the state retains its interests in accurate record-keeping, deterring fraud, and enforcing contribution limits. As a practical matter, some lag time between an election and disclosure of contributions that immediately precede that election is necessary for the state to protect these interests. In this case, for example, Appellants' contributions surged nearly 40% (i.e., by over $12 million) between the final pre-election reporting deadline and election day. Absent post-election reporting requirements, California could not account for such late-in-the-day donations. And, without such reporting requirements, donors could undermine the State's interests in disclosure by donating only once the final pre-election reporting deadline has passed.
As to the as-applied challenge, the court said they weren't justiciable: a request for an injunction to purge records of past disclosures is moot (and not capable of repetition but evading review); a request for an exemption from future reporting requirements is not ripe. Judge Wallace dissented on the as-applied challenge.
May 21, 2014 in Campaign Finance, Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Mootness, News, Ripeness, Speech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Friday, May 16, 2014
The Seventh Circuit this week issued a sweeping ruling on Wisconsin's campaign finance requirements and permanently enjoined a good part of the law. The ruling in Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc. v. Barland marks the end of the second round of this broadside challenge to Wisconsin's law. The first round ended with a Seventh Circuit ruling overturning the state's $10,000 cap on contributions under the First Amendment.
The ruling this week is long and detailed. That's because Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., a 501(c)(4) organization, challenged "a dizzying array of statutes and rules" as vague, overbroad, violative of free speech. It's also because Wisconsin law, according to the court, is "labyrinthian and difficult to decipher without a background in this area of the law," and "has not been updated to keep pace with the evolution in Supreme Court doctrine . . . ."
Portions of the ruling were unsurprising. Thus the court ruled that Wisconsin's ban on corporate speech and its cap on corporate fundraising for an unaffliated PAC violated the First Amendment under Citizens United.
Other portions required a little more work:
Disclaimer Requirement. The court held that Wisconsin's regulatory disclaimer requirement for independent political communications, as applied only to 30-second radio ads (because that's all that was challenged), was unconstitutional. Wisconsin law required a certain disclaimer, but regulations went 50 words beyond that disclaimer, adding nothing to it, with no apparent good reason, and cutting into ad time.
Definitions of "political purposes" and "political committee." The court ruled that the statutory definition of "political purposes" and the regulatory definition of "political committee," which trigger certain registration, reporting, and disclosure requirements, were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad, imposing PAC duties on nearly any political communication. The court gave Wisconsin law a narrowing construction, ruling that "[a]s applied to political speakers other than candidates, their campaign committees, and political parties, the definitions are limited to express advocacy and its functional equivalent as those terms were explained in Buckley and Wisconsin Right to Life II."
PAC Registration and Reporting Requirements. The court ruled that the Wisconsin regulation that treats issue advocacy during the preelection period as fully regulable express advocacy if it mentions a candidate is unconstitutional. It also ruled that the regulation that "imposes PAC-like registration, reporting, and other requirements on all organizations that make independent disbursements, is unconstitutional as applied to organizations not engaged in express advocacy as their major purpose."
In short, the court said that the Wisconsin legislature failed to keep up with changes in the doctrine--in particular, the change that Citizens United wrought--and that the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's attempts to fill in the gaps through regulations simply swept too broadly.
The court's ruling directs the lower court to permanently enjoin the above-mentioned provisions. The ruling is a sharp kick in the pants to the Wisconsin state legislature to update its campaign finance law.
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Judge Lynn Adelman (E.D. Wis.) yesterday struck Wisconsin's voter ID requirement, ruling that it violated both the Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The ruling in Frank v. Walker is a wide-ranging, thorough examination of the evidence of the state's interests, the hassles for voters to comply, and the disparate impact on black and Latino voters. The ruling permanently enjoins the state from enforcing its voter ID requirement.
(There are two other cases challenging Wisconsin's voter ID law under the state constitution. They're both at the state supreme court.)
As to the constitutionality of the law, the court applied the Anderson/Burdick balancing test and concluded that the burden of the voter ID requirement outweighed the state's interests. The court said that the state's interests in preventing in-person voter-impersonation fraud, promoting confidence in the integrity of the electoral process, detecting other types of fraud, and promoting orderly election administration and recordkeeping were not supported, or barely supported, by the evidence. On the other hand, the court found that the hassle to individual voters in complying with the law could be substantial.
The principal difference between this case and Crawford v. Marion County, the 2008 case where the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter-ID law, was the evidence of voter burden. Here, as the court carefully recounted in the opinion, there was particular evidence of serious burdens to individual voters. Not so in Crawford.
As to Section 2 of the VRA, the court said that blacks and Latinos more likely lacked qualifying voter ID--that's based just on the numbers--and therefore were disparately impacted in violation of Section 2. The court rejected the state's argument that blacks and Latinos had equal access to voter ID, even if they more likely lacked voter ID in reality; the court said that equal access didn't reflect the Section 2 test. But even if it did, the court said that blacks and Latinos were likely to have a harder time obtaining qualifying voter IDs. Either way, the court said, the voter ID requirement violated Section 2.
The court said it would "schedule expedited proceedings" to hear a claim that a legislative change in the voter ID requirement saved it, and thus to lift the injunction. But the court also said that "given the evidence presented at trial showing that Blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to lack an ID, it is difficult to see how an amendment to the photo ID requirement could remove its disproportionate racial impact and discriminatory result."
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Judge Eric Melgren (D. Kansas) today ordered the federal Election Assistance Commission to add language to state-specific instructions on the federal voter registration form for Arizona and Kansas that would require voter registration applicants to show proof of citizenship.
Arizona and Kansas previously announced that they would adopt a two-tier registration system, one for state elections and one for federal elections, in response to the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. Recall that in that case the Court ruled that the National Voter Registration Act, which requires states to "accept and use" a uniform federal form to register voters for federal elections, preempted an Arizona law that required state officials to reject any application for registration that wasn't accompanied by proof of citizenship. The NVRA federal form simply required applicants to aver, under penalty of perjury, that they satisfy state requirements for voter registration. The Court said that Arizona impermissibly required more.
Arizona and Kansas announced, in response to Inter Tribal Council, that they'd simply adopt a two-tiered system. That is, they'd continue to "accept and use" the federal form (without additional proof of citizenship) for registration for federal elections, and they'd use their own state form (with an additional requirement for documentary proof of citizenship) for state elections.
That seemed inefficient (among other things), to say the least.
Now, Judge Melgren's ruling, if upheld, might mean that Arizona and Kansas would ditch their efforts to create the two-tiered system, because they'd get what they want on the federal form--proof of each applicant's citizenship.
The ruling, if upheld, also invites other states to follow suit and get their own state-specific instructions on the NVRA federal form that would require additional documentary proof of citizenship. This could create hassles for registration through the federal form, even though a primary goal of that form was to make registration simpler. If many states did this, they could undermine the ease of registration that the NVRA was designed to promote.
The case, Kobach v. USEAC, grew out of Arizona's and Kansas's requests to the EAC to include state-specific instructions on the federal voter registration form that would require voter registration applicants in those states to show proof of citizenship. The states' requests came on the heels of the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc.
The Court said that the NVRA preempted Arizona's proof-of-citizenship requirement, but it also said that a state could ask the EAC to add a proof-of-citizenship requirement on the state-specific instructions that accompany the NVRA federal form.
That's exactly what Kansas and Arizona did. The EAC declined, and the states sued, arguing that the EAC's decision violated the Administrative Procedures Act, among other things.
Judge Melgren agreed. He ruled that the adding the state-specific instructions on the NVRA federal form (to provide proof of citizenship) could be harmonized with the NVRA (and that the NVRA didn't preempt state law on this point):
But the NVRA does not include a similar clear and manifest prohibition against a state requiring documentary proof of citizenship. In fact, the NVRA does not address documentary proof of citizenship at all, neither allowing it nor prohibiting it. Therefore, the Court must find that the NVRA is silent on the subject. Because Congress has not addressed the same subject as the state law, there is no basis to determine that the NVRA has preempted Arizona or Kansas law on the subject of documentary proof of citizenship.
Moreover, Judge Melgren said that not allowing Kansas's and Arizona's requested instructions would raise serious constitutional questions--that is, whether the NVRA intrudes too much on state authority to set the qualifications of voters for state and federal elections under the Elections Clause. Judge Melgren wrote that requiring the EAC to include the requested state-specific instructions would avoid this question.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Judge John D. Bates (D.D.C.) yesterday dismissed a case brought by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, challenging the IRS rule that allows donors to certain political organizations to remain under the radar.
The ruling means that CREW's effort in this court to get the IRS to rewrite its rule on 501(c)(4) organizations fails, and that unless and until the IRS rewrites its rule, 501(c)(4) organizations can continue engaging up to 49% of their activity in political spending while keeping their donors hidden from public view.
The case, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. IRS, challenged the IRS rule implementing Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. That provision grants a tax exemption for organizations "not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare." (Emphasis added.) But the IRS rule implementing that provision applies to organizations that are "primarily engaged in promoting in some way the common good and general welfare of the people of the community. An organization embraced within this section is one which is operated primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterments and social improvements."
In short: The statutory "operated exclusively" became a regulatory "primarily engaged," giving 501(c)(4)s considerably more latitude to engage in electioneering.
That matters, because 501(c)(4) status allows organizations to spend money in politics while at the same time shielding the names of donors. Some 501(c)(4)s have taken the position, based on the IRS rule, that they qualify for tax exemption if they engage 49% of less in political donations. That's a lot of political donations--and a lot of shielding of donors--especially when the statute requires them to be "operated exclusively" for social welfare purposes.
So CREW sued, arguing that the IRS regulation let 501(c)(4)s get away with way more political spending, and shielding, than the Internal Revenue Code allowed.
But Judge Bates dismissed the case for lack of standing. He ruled that CREW could not establish informational injury, because its injury--lack of information on donors--was hypohetical and speculative. In particular, Judge Bates wrote that it wasn't the IRS regulation that prevented CREW from getting information on donors, but instead the organizations' decision on how to organize. In other words, if the IRS rewrote its regulation to conform to the Internal Revenue Code, 501(c)(4)s might drop their tax-exempt status or reorganize under another tax-exempt provision to maintain donor confidentiality; but they wouldn't necessarily reorganize as 527s (which would require donor disclosure). Judge Bates wrote that this also prevented CREW from showing causation and redressability.
Judge Bates also ruled that CREW did not have standing based on programmatic injury--the injury to its ability to collect donor information and fulfill its watchdog mission. That's because CREW's injury isn't "fairly traceable" to the IRS decision not to rewrite its rule--there are other intervening causes of CREW's injury.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Pro Publica has a concise list of state-by-state changes to voting laws since the Supreme Court's ruling last summer in Shelby County. The page includes an interactive map that shows how previously covered jurisdictions have taken advantage of their lack of coverage to impose tighter voting requirements.
Recall that the Supreme Court ruled last summer in Shelby County that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the coverage formula for the preclearance provision (in Section 5), exceeded congressional authority. Chief Justice Roberts wrote that "things had changed" since Congress enacted the VRA in 1965, but that the preclearance coverage formula hadn't kept pace. Moreover, he wrote that a coverage formula that treats states differently, as Sections 4 and 5 did, violated a newly minted principle of equal state sovereignty.
In the immediate wake of the ruling, previously covered jurisdictions like Texas and North Carolina moved swiftly to enact more restrictive voting requirements that were previously denied preclearance--bold, in-your-face moves that illustrated the impact of the Court's ruling. Since that time, more jurisdictions, many of them previously covered jurisdictions, have similarly tightened voting requirements in ways that will likely have disparate impacts on poor and racial minority communities.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Tenth Circuit Holds Colorado's Campaign Finance Scheme Unconstitutional as a Violation of Equal Protection
In its opinion this week in Riddle v. Hickenlooper, a panel of the Tenth Circuit unanimously held unconstitutional a differential contribution limit in the Colorado campaign finance scheme as violating the Equal Protection Clause.
The scheme, deriving from Colorado's Amendment 27 and statutes, provided that the campaign limit for contributions to candidates who ran in a primary election, even if unopposed, was $200 per person and there was an additional campaign limit of $200 per person for all candidates running in the general election. This meant that a candidate who was a member of a major party holding a primary had a per person limit of $400, while minor party and write-in candidates had a per person limit of only $200.
The panel held that because "the statutory classification affects a fundamental right, the right to political expression" the correct equal protection standard should be a "standard that is at least as rigorous as the standard applied under the First Amendment," and that under standard the classification fails. The panel found that the anti-corruption (or appearance of corruption) governmental interest was "sufficiently important," but the means chosen "are ill-conceived to advance these interests."
The statutory classification might advance the State’s asserted interest if write-ins, unaffiliated candidates, or minor-party nominees were more corruptible (or appeared more corruptible) than their Republican or Democratic opponents. But the Defendants have never made such a suggestion. In the absence of a link between the differing contribution limits and the battle against corruption, the means chosen are not closely drawn to the State’s asserted interest.
Concurring, Judge Gorsuch began by stating:
I confess some uncertainty about the level of scrutiny the Supreme Court wishes us to apply to this contribution limit challenge, but I harbor no question about the outcome we must reach. My colleagues are surely right that, as applied, Colorado’s statutory scheme offends the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, whatever plausible level of scrutiny we might deploy.
Interestingly, both the concurring opinion and the panel majority opinion, authored by Judge Bacharach, clearly rest their analysis on the Equal Protection Clause, and thus do not reach the First Amendment challenge. Nevertheless, First Amendment doctrine and precedent permeate the reasoning. Yet given that the Colorado campaign finance scheme results in such an untenable classification, the conclusion of an equal protection classification seems the right one.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
As we discussed yesterday, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress that would amend the Voting Rights Act and recalibrate the coverage formula for preclearance, as a response the the Court's holding in Shelby v. Holder that section 4(b) of the VRA was unconstitutional.
Tolson argues that while
there are some aspects of the legislation that may displease civil rights organizations, particularly the exemption of voter identification laws from coverage under the new formula, the proposal is a strong start to address the gaping hole in the preclearance regime created by the Court's decision in Shelby County.
But in some respects, she contends, the proposed legislation may go too far.
She argues that the proposed amendments to section 3(c) of the VRA are "alarming because they place a bull's eye squarely on the back of section 3(c)" as well as section 2. She notes that section 3(c) of the VRA is constitutional precisely "because its intentional discrimination requirement is identical to the constitutional standard for establishing violations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments."
She concludes that the "legislative focus should be limited to replacing the coverage formula and leaving section 3(c) alone."
Worth a read for anyone considering the proposed amendments to the VRA and the legacy of Shelby v. Holder.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
President Obama met today with the Presidential Commission on Election Administration, a commission established after the President pledged in hi2 2013 State of the Union address to seek ways to provide better access to the polls. The Commission, headed by Robert Bauer and Benjamin Ginsberg, just issued its Report and Recommendations, including these key recommendations for state and local officials:
- Modernize the voter registration process through expansion of on-line voter registration and state collaboration in improving the accuracy of voter lists;
- Expand early voting days;
- Adopt new techniques to manage polling places efficiently; and
- Pave the way for the adoption of new technologies for voting.
Here's a video of President Obama's remarks at the meeting: