Thursday, October 1, 2020

Check it Out: The Voter-Fraud Myth and How it Impacts the Right to Vote

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Seventh Circuit Rebuffs Appeal by Republicans, State Legislation in Wisconsin Voting Case

The Seventh Circuit flatly rejected an appeal by the Wisconsin legislature and the state and national Republican Party of a lower court's order that the state extend voting deadlines in light of Covid-19. The ruling leaves the extended deadlines in place and ends the case, unless the intervenors can persuade the full Seventh Circuit or the Supreme Court to step in.

The case arose when the Democratic National Committee and others sued the state, arguing that its statutory voting deadlines violated the right to vote. The district court agreed, and ordered extended deadlines.

State executive officials declined to appeal. But the RNC, state Republicans, and the state legislature moved to intervene to defend the state's statutory deadlines (and to oppose the district court's order extending them), and brought this appeal.

The Seventh Circuit's ruling says that these parties don't have standing to appeal. The court said that the state and national Republican parties don't have standing, because neither group contended that the district court's ruling would affect their members, and because neither group suffered an injury itself.

Legislative standing was a little different. The court acknowledged that a legislature can litigate in federal court when it seeks to vindicate a legislative interest. But here the court said there was none. "All the legislators' votes were counted; all of the statutes they passed appear in the state's code."

The legislature argued that state law authorized it to defend against challenges to state statutes. But the court observed that the state supreme court previously ruled that this provision violated the state constitution, which "commits to the executive branch of government [and not the legislative branch] the protection of the state's interest in litigation."

The court gave the putative appellants a week to show cause why the court shouldn't dismiss the case.

September 30, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 6, 2020

Supreme Court Says States Can Punish Faithless Electors

A unanimous Supreme Court today upheld a state law that punishes "faithless electors." The ruling means that states can continue to impose fines on individuals appointed to vote in the Electoral College who pledge their vote to one candidate, but actually vote for another. In a companion case (in a brief per curiam opinion), the Court held that a state could remove and replace a faithless elector with an elector who would vote for the winner of the state's popular vote.

The case, Chiafalo v. Washington, arose when three Washington electors who pledged to support Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election actually voted for someone else. (They hoped that they could encourage other electors to do the same, and deny Donald Trump the presidency.) The state imposed a $1000 fine for each "faithless elector" for violating their pledge to support the candidate who won the state's popular vote.

The pledge wasn't a problem. The Court in 1952 upheld a pledge requirement, and a state's power to appoint only those electors who would vote for the candidate of the winning political party. But that case, Ray v. Blair, didn't answer the question whether a state could punish a faithless elector.

Today's ruling says yes.

Justice Kagan wrote for the Court. She noted first that the appointment power in Article II, Section 1, authorizes each state to appoint electors "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct." This power to appoint "includes a power to condition [the] appointment--that is, to say what the elector must do for the appointment to take effect," including requiring the elector to pledge to cast a vote in the Electoral College that reflects the popular vote in the state. Then: "And nothing in the Constitution expressly prohibits States from taking away presidential electors' voting discretion as Washington does." In short, "a law penalizing faithless voting (like a law merely barring that practice) is an exercise of the State's power to impose conditions on the appointment of electors."

The Court also wrote that the practice of punishing a faithless elector is consistent with "long settled and established practice." "Washington's law, penalizing a pledge's breach, is only another in the same vein. It reflects a tradition more than two centuries old. In that practice, electors are not free agents; they are to vote for the candidate whom the State's voters have chosen."

Justice Thomas concurred, joined by Justice Gorsuch. Justice Thomas argued that the question isn't answered by Article II (or anything else in the Constitution), and so gets its answer from the federalism formula in the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

July 6, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS Finds Exception in Robocalls Prohibition Statute Violates First Amendment

In its opinion in  Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants the United States Supreme Court held a provision of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (the “TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A), exempting certain calls from the prohibition of robocalls violated the First Amendment.

Recall from our discussion when certiorari was granted that the federal law prohibits calls to cell phones by use of an automated dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice ("robocalls") subject to three statutory exemptions including one added in 2015 for automated calls that relate to the collection of debts owed to or guaranteed by the federal government including mortgages and student loans. Recall also from our oral argument preview that the case involves the tension between marketplace of ideas and privacy.

The challengers, political consultants and similar entities, argued that this exemption violated the First Amendment as a content regulation that could not survive strict scrutiny and further that the exemption could not be severed from the TCPA. To win, the challengers had to prevail on both arguments. However, a majority of the Justices found that while the exemption violated the First Amendment, it could be severed and so the prohibition in the TCPA applicable to the challengers remained valid.

As the plurality opinion expresses it:

Six Members of the Court today conclude that Congress has impermissibly favored debt-collection speech over political and other speech, in violation of the First Amendment. Applying traditional severability principles, seven Members of the Court conclude that the entire 1991 robocall restriction should not be invalidated, but rather that the 2015 government-debt exception must be invalidated and severed from the remainder of the statute. As a result, plaintiffs still may not make political robocalls to cell phones, but their speech is now treated equally with debt-collection speech. The judgment of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is affirmed.

[citations omitted].

Despite this seeming overwhelming agreement, there is no majority opinion and the opinions demonstrate a perhaps needless fragmentation of the Justices and complication of precedent.

  • Kavanaugh's plurality opinion garnered support from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, with Thomas joining on the First Amendment issue applying strict scrutiny to a content-based regulation, but not on the severability issue (Part III). 
  • Sotomayor wrote a brief solo concurring opinion, concluding that although the First Amendment standard should be the more relaxed intermediate scrutiny, the standard was not satisfied. She agreed that severability of the exemption was proper.
  • Breyer, joined by Ginsburg and Kagan, agreed that the provision was severable, but dissented on the First Amendment issue, finding that strict scrutiny should not apply and that the robocall exemption survived intermediate-type scrutiny ("The speech-related harm at issue here — and any related effect of the marketplace of ideas — is modest").
  • Gorsuch, joined in part by Thomas, agreed that the exemption violated the First Amendment, but argued that it was no severable, or more accurately that severability should not be the issue. He argued that severing and voiding the government-debt exemption does nothing to address the injury the challengers claimed and it harms strangers to this lawsuit. The opinion calls for a reconsideration of "severability doctrine" as a whole, citing in a footnote Thomas's partial dissent in Selia Law just last week.

Thus while the outcome is clear, its ultimate basis is muddied.

 

July 6, 2020 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Florida District Judge Issues Injunction on Florida Statute Requiring Payment of Fines and Fees for Re-enfranchisement

The 125 page opinion in Jones v. DeSantis by United States District Judge Robert Hinkle results in an detailed permanent injunction outlining how Florida must comply with the constitutional and statutory requirements required to implement its statute requiring the payment of fees and fines before persons convicted of felonies be re-enfranchised.

Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4.  Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:

any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

Fla. Const. Art. VI §4.  After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole." 

Recall Judge Hinkle previously issued a preliminary injunction regarding indigent persons, finding that the statute as to the named plaintiffs violated equal protection.

Recall also that the Eleventh Circuit upheld the preliminary injunction, finding that to the "extent a felon can pay" the legal financial obligations (LFOs), they must, but clearly affirmed the district court's order enjoining the state "from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations."

Now, Judge Hinkle has heard evidence in the five consolidated cases and issued a detailed injunction.

As to the equal protection claim of persons who are "genuinely unable to pay their LFOs,"  Judge Hinkle found the Eleventh Circuit decision upholding the preliminary injunction was determinative. But the determination of "genuinely unable to pay" had its own constitutional issues:

The State has shown a staggering inability to administer the pay-to- vote system and, in an effort to reduce the administrative difficulties, has largely abandoned the only legitimate rationale for the pay-to-vote system’s existence.

The state, it seemed, could not determine the original obligation for individuals, and it could not determine the amount that individuals had paid - - - changing its accounting from an "actual-balance method" to a "every-dollar method." The opinion does an admirable job of explaining the methods and providing examples - - - and it seems clear that it is incoherent. Further, the department of elections charged with administering the system did not have a system or the resources it.

On equal protection on the basis of race or gender, Judge Hinkle rejected both claims "on balance," but did provide serious consideration.

On the Twenty-fourth Amendment, the court stated that while the Florida statute was not a poll tax, the fees imposed on defendants as payment to run the criminal justice system were "any other tax" within the Amendment.

On procedural due process, the problems with the state system and the "request an advisory opinion" method provided to individuals to determine the amounts due merited analysis, as well as a large portion of the mandated injunction (below).

While the States may certainly chose to appeal, Florida would not seem to have a very good chance returning to the Eleventh Circuit.

Continue reading

May 26, 2020 in Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Gender, Opinion Analysis, Procedural Due Process, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Eleventh Circuit: Florida Law Mandating Indigent Voters Pay Fines and Fees Violates Equal Protection Clause

In an extensive opinion in Jones v. Governor of Florida, the Eleventh Circuit found that the Florida legislature's imposition of payment of all fines, fees, and restitution connected with a felony conviction as a necessary precondition for re-enfranchisement violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.

Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4.  Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:

any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

Fla. Const. Art. VI §4.  After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole." 

Recall that in October 2019, United States District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida held that the Florida statute requiring payment of fines, fees, and costs in order for a person convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored is unconstitutional and should be enjoined, providing that persons affected should have the opportunity to prove their inability to pay.

The Eleventh's Circuit per curiam opinion of 78 pages concluded that the statute's requirement of payment of "legal financial obligations" (known as LFO) could not be sustained under heightened scrutiny.  While wealth classifications in equal protection do not generally merit heightened scrutiny, the Eleventh Circuit noted that

But the Supreme Court has told us that wealth classifications require more searching review in at least two discrete areas: the administration of criminal justice and access to the franchise. M.L.B. [ v. S.L.J.], 519 U.S. at 123  [1996] (“[O]ur cases solidly establish two exceptions to that general rule [of rational basis for wealth classifications]. The basic right to participate in political processes as voters and candidates cannot be limited to those who can pay for a license. Nor may access to judicial processes in cases criminal or ‘quasi criminal in nature’ turn on ability to pay.” (citations omitted)). Because Florida’s re-enfranchisement scheme directly implicates wealth discrimination both in the administration of criminal justice and in access to the franchise, we are obliged to apply some form of heightened scrutiny. Florida has implemented a wealth classification that punishes those genuinely unable to pay fees, fines, and restitution more harshly than those able to pay—that is, it punishes more harshly solely on account of wealth—and it does so by withholding access to the franchise. The observation that Florida may strip the right to vote from all felons forever does not dictate that rational basis review is proper in this case. To the contrary, settled Supreme Court precedent instructs us to employ heightened scrutiny where the State has chosen to “open the door” to alleviate punishment for some, but mandates that punishment continue for others, solely on account of wealth.

Further,

The Supreme Court has also determined that a state may not extend punishment on account of inability to pay fines or fees. See Bearden, 461 U.S. at 672–73 (holding that a state may not revoke probation—thereby extending a prison term—based on the failure to pay a fine the defendant is unable, through no fault of his own, to pay); Tate, 401 U.S. at 399 (holding that a state cannot imprison under a fine-only statute on the basis that an indigent defendant cannot pay a fine); Williams, 399 U.S. at 240–41 (holding that a period of imprisonment cannot be extended beyond the statutory maximum on the basis that an indigent cannot pay a fine).

1024px-2018_Florida_Amendment_4.svgFor the Eleventh Circuit, disenfranchisement is clearly punishment, and also clearly a "continuing form of punishment." (emphasis in original). The Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that while felon disenfranchisment schemes are generally only subject to rational basis review, here, the long and short of it is that:

 once a state provides an avenue to ending the punishment of disenfranchisement—as the voters of Florida plainly did—it must do so consonant with the principles of equal protection and it may not erect a wealth barrier absent a justification sufficient to overcome heightened scrutiny.

The court then applied the form heightened scrutiny from Bearden v. Georgia (1983) including its four considerations: (1) “the nature of the individual interest affected”; (2) “the extent to which it is affected”; (3) “the rationality of the connection between legislative means and purpose”; and (4) “the existence of alternative means for effectuating the purpose.” The court rather expeditiously analyzed the individual's interests as great, the state's interests as minor, and noted the lack of realistic alternatives.

Further, the court rejected Florida's argument that the plaintiffs must demonstrate discriminatory intent:

This is a wealth discrimination case. And the Supreme Court has squarely held that [Washington v.] Davis’s intent requirement is not applicable in wealth discrimination cases. See M.L.B., 519 U.S. at 126–27 (rejecting, in the context of a wealth discrimination claim, the argument that Washington v. Davis requires proof of discriminatory intent).

The Eleventh Circuit opinion concluded that although to the "extent a felon can pay LFOs, he or she must," but clearly affirmed the district court's order enjoining the state "from preventing the plaintiffs from voting based solely on their genuine inability to pay legal financial obligations."

[image: Florida vote on Amendment 4 via]

February 19, 2020 in Criminal Procedure, Current Affairs, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Race, Recent Cases | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 17, 2020

Check it Out: Bouie on the Fifteenth Amendment

Check out Jamelle Bouie's piece at the NYT, The Equality That Wasn't. "The most Radical Republicans had a better idea of how to cast the 15th Amendment. We should have listened to them."

February 17, 2020 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Daily Read: Chief Justice's Year-End Report on the Judiciary

For his 2019 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice Roberts chose to include in his brief introductory remarks some words about democracy:

It is sadly ironic that John Jay’s efforts to educate his fellow citizens about the Framers’ plan of government fell victim to a rock thrown by a rioter motivated by a rumor. Happily, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay ultimately succeeded in convincing the public of the virtues of the principles embodied in the Constitution. Those principles leave no place for mob violence. But in the ensuing years, we have come to take democracy for granted, and civic education has fallen by the wayside. In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public’s need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital. The judiciary has an important role to play in civic education, and I am pleased to report that the judges and staff of our federal courts are taking up the challenge.

[emphasis added]. The emphasized bolded language, seeming to blame the population of the United States for taking democracy for granted and social media for spreading rumors did not sit well with some commentators who argued that Roberts should consider his own contributions to undermining democracy:  Shelby County (regarding voting rights);  Rucho (decided in June of this year holding partisan gerrymandering is a political question not suitable for the federal courts);   McCutcheon (finding campaign finance regulations unconstitutional).  For others, Roberts's language regarding civic education is welcome and demonstrates his recognition of the divides in the nation.

Noticeably absent from Roberts's remarks was any reference to the impeachment trial which looms in the Senate over which he will preside.  Also absent was any update on the sexual misconduct claims against members of the judiciary which he mentioned in last year's report.

January 1, 2020 in Campaign Finance, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Political Question Doctrine | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Federal Judge Enjoins North Carolina's Voter-ID Law

In her opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. Cooper, Judge Loretta Biggs of the Middle District of North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction against North Carolina’s voter ID-requirements, known as S.B. 824.

Judge Biggs found that plaintiffs’ claim that SB 824 violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause had a likelihood of success. Although the voter-ID law was facially neutral, Judge Biggs found that it enacted a racial classification. As she explained, in Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Housing Dev. Corp. (1977),

the Supreme Court set forth a non-exhaustive list of factors to guide this delicate investigation. Reviewing courts should consider: (1) the law’s historical background; (2) the specific sequence of events leading up to the law’s enactment, including any departures from normal legislative procedure; (3) the law’s legislative and administrative history; and (4) whether the law’s effect “bears more heavily on one race than another.” The Court further cautioned that, because legislative bodies are “[r]arely . . . motivated solely by a single concern,” a challenger need only demonstrate that “invidious discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor.” (emphasis added). “[T]he ultimate question,” then, is whether a law was enacted “because of,” and not “in spite of,” the discriminatory effect it would likely produce.

Applying the Arlington Heights factors, Judge Biggs found that the “historical background” of the law “weighs in favor of a finding of discriminatory intent with respect to S.B. 824’s enactment”:  “North Carolina has a sordid history of racial discrimination and voter suppression stretching back to the time of slavery, through the era of Jim Crow, and, crucially, continuing up to the present day.”

On the “sequence of events,” Judge Biggs found the record “mixed.” While the  “parliamentary requirements” were met, when “viewed with a wider lens, the circumstances surrounding S.B. 824 are unusual.” A majority of the Republican legislators who supported a previous bill on voter-ID declared unconstitutional by the Fourth Circuit “also voted for S.B. 824, and the same legislative leaders spearheaded both bills. "Further,she found it noteworthy that "those legislators were elected, at least in part, by way of district maps which were declared unconstitutional." Additionally, "after voters ratified the voter-ID amendment, S.B. 824 was enacted along (virtually) strict party lines and over the Governor’s veto.”

As to the legislative history, including statements, Judge Biggs considered the statements of legislators after the previous bill was declared unconstitutional as well as changes proposed or adopted, and “the decision not to include public-assistance IDs as an acceptable form of identification,” despite the Fourth Circuit’s criticism.  

Finally, Judge Biggs concluded that there was (or was likely to be) a racially disparate impact. Examining the specific provisions of the bill, including what types of identification were accepted and which were not:

the important metric for the Court’s purposes isn’t so much the variety of IDs as how readily they are possessed by North Carolinians of different backgrounds. In this sense, what is most striking about the state’s newly expanded list of IDs is that it continues to primarily include IDs which minority voters disproportionately lack, and leaves out those which minority voters are more likely to have.

One example was federal government identification, which was excluded. For Judge Biggs, these disparate types of identification mean not only that “minority voters will bear this effect more severely than their white counterparts,” but also that “a disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic” North Carolina citizens “could be deterred from voting or registering to vote because they lack, or believe they lack, acceptable identification and remain confused by or uninformed about S.B. 824’s exceptions.”

Thus, Judge Biggs found that the law was racially motivated. She further found that it was not supported by any of the proffered government interests.

Given that the Governor had vetoed this bill and the Fourth Circuit's decision holding a previous similar law unconstitutional, the prospects for an appeal will certainly be closely monitored.

December 31, 2019 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Race | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

California High Court Strikes State Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Disclose Taxes

A unanimous California Supreme Court ruled the state requirement that presidential candidates disclose their federal taxes violates the state constitution. The ruling is a significant victory for President Trump and the state's GOP.

The ruling notes that there are several pending lawsuits challenging the disclosure requirement under the U.S. Constitution. The California Supreme Court, however, limited its ruling to the state constitution. Because it's limited to the state constitution, it's final, and can't be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The California Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act prohibits the Secretary of State from printing on a primary election ballot the name of a candidate for President of the United States who has not filed with the Secretary of State the candidate's federal income tax returns for the five most recent taxable years. But the state constitution, article II, section 5(c), provides:

The Legislature shall provide for partisan elections for presidential candidates, and political party and party central committees, including an open presidential primary whereby the candidates on the ballot are those found by the Secretary of State to be recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California for the office of President of the United States, and those whose names are placed on the ballot by petition, but excluding any candidate who has withdrawn by filing an affidavit of noncandidacy.

The state high court ruled that the Act impermissibly added a requirement for a candidate to be listed on the ballot, in violation of article II, section 5(c). As the court explained:

[A]rticle II, section 5(c) is most naturally read as conveying a rule of inclusivity for presidential primary elections that the Legislature cannot contravene. This reading is strongly supported by the history of the constitutional text that now appears in article II, section 5(c). This history establishes beyond fair dispute that this language was adopted to ensure that the ballots for parties participating in the presidential primary election would include all persons within said parties deemed to be "recognized candidates throughout the nation or throughout California for the office of President of the United States," except for those candidates who filed affidavits of noncandidacy, so that voters in the primary election would have a direct opportunity to vote for or against these candidates.

Because the relevant provisions of the Act condition a presidential candidate's placement on the primary ballot on compliance with an additional requirement that is concededly not a reasonable measure of whether the candidate is "recognized" as such throughout the nation or California, it conflicts with the rule specified by article II, section 5(c), and is for that reason invalid.

 

November 21, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 18, 2019

CFP: CUNY Law Review Democracy and Voting Symposium

“Democracy At Your Fingertips: Your Voice, Your Vote, Make It Count”

CALL FOR PAPERS FOR PUBLICATION

2020 CUNY Law Review Symposium

April 3, 2020

City University of New York School of Law

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CUNY Law Review (CUNYLR) will host its Spring Symposium at City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law in Long Island City on issues of democracy. The symposium is an opportunity for an interdisciplinary gathering of legal scholars, practitioners, and community advocates to engage in dialogue on contemporary legal issues.

Since its foundation, voting power in the United States was exclusively reserved for educated white men who owned property. A century of progress, where communities that were barred from suffrage saw gains in their access to the ballot box, continues to be threatened by concerted efforts to deny them their right to vote.

By bringing together legal scholars, practitioners, and community advocates working on the front lines of the movements for voter rights, we hope to raise awareness of these issues and develop innovative solutions to address the disenfranchisement of marginalized communities. We will use the theme of accessibility to ground our discussion, focusing on how marginalized communities can continue to gain access to the ballot and ensure that unjust laws and policies do not strip away their rights.

CUNY Law Review invites scholars, legal practitioners, advocates, and organizers to submit articles for consideration for publication in an upcoming volume of CUNY Law Review, dedicated to the symposium. We are particularly interested in publishing works that discuss the following areas:

  • 2020 Census
  • Voter disenfranchisement
  • Election security/hacking
  • Lack of oversight over ballot counting technology

Please send one-page proposals via email to mirian.albert@ live.law.cuny.edu and christina.das@live.law.cuny.edu. The editors will review the submitted proposals on a rolling basis, final deadline is  December 16, 2019. Please include “CUNYLR Symposium 2020 Publication Submission” in the subject line. Articles not selected for inclusion in the symposium volume may be considered for publication through the Law Review’s digital platform, Footnote Forum.

Proposals should contain the following information: 

  • Name and affiliation of the authors
  • Working title
  • An article abstract, no longer than 500 words
  • Expected article length
  • Whether attendance at the symposium is contingent on travel reimbursement

Please note that the due date for article drafts for selected articles is March 3, 2020 for the April 3 Symposium.

 

 

November 18, 2019 in Campaign Finance, Conferences, Elections and Voting | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 18, 2019

Federal Judge Enjoins Florida's Statute Conditioning Right to Vote on Payment of Finess and Fees

In an opinion in Jones v. DeSantis, United States District Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida held that the Florida statute requiring payment of fines, fees, and costs in order for a person convicted of a felony to have their voting rights restored is unconstitutional and should be enjoined.

Recall that Florida law disenfranchising persons convicted of felonies, held unconstitutional in 2018, was changed by a voter referendum to amend the Florida Constitution. Amendment 4.  Amendment 4 changed the Florida Constitution to provide:

any disqualification from voting arising from a felony conviction shall terminate and voting rights shall be restored upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.

Screen Shot 2019-10-18 at 8.21.23 PMFla. Const. Art. VI §4.  After the amendment was passed, the Florida legislature passed SB7066, codified as Fla. Stat. §98.071 (5) which defined "completion of all terms of sentence" to include "full payment of any restitution ordered by the court, as well as "Full payment of fines or fees ordered by the court as a part of the sentence or that are ordered by the court as a condition of any form of supervision, including, but not limited to, probation, community control, or parole."

Judge Hinkle first addressed Florida's motion to dismiss based on lack of standing and motion to abstain, finding them without merit. Judge Hinkle then discussed whether or not Amendment 4 authorized the statute extending the conditions to all restitution, fines, and fees, acknowledging that "the last word will belong to the Florida Supreme Court," on the matter of that interpretation. However, for purposes of the issue of constitutionality at this stage, the judge assumed that " “all terms of sentence” includes fines and restitution, fees even when unrelated to culpability, and amounts even when converted to civil liens, so long as the amounts are included in the sentencing document."

While the court acknowledged that a 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), here the state had amended its constitution not to do so, but with an exception for those persons convicted of felonies who could not meet their financial obligations. Thus, the Equal Protection Clause is implicated. On this point, Judge Hinkle found Eleventh Circuit precedent was clear, citing Johnson v. Governor of Florida, 405 F.3d 1214 (11th Cir. 2005) (en banc). The court quotes the en banc court in Johnson stating:

Access to the franchise cannot be made to depend on an individual’s financial resources. Under Florida’s Rules of Executive Clemency, however, the right to vote can still be granted to felons who cannot afford to pay restitution. . . . Because Florida does not deny access to the restoration of the franchise based on ability to pay, we affirm the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants on these claims.

[emphasis in original]. For Judge Hinkle, this is both the "starting point of the analysis of this issue, and pretty much the ending point." 

As support for Johnson and further explication of the standard of review under equal protection doctrine, Judge Hinkle reasoned:

Johnson does not lack Supreme Court support; it is consistent with a series of Supreme Court decisions.

In one, M.L.B. v. S.L.J., 519 U.S. 102 (1996), the Court noted the “general rule” that equal-protection claims based on indigency are subject to only rational-basis review. This is the same general rule on which the Secretary [of State of Florida] places heavy reliance here. But in M.L.B. the Court said there are two exceptions to the general rule. 

The first exception, squarely applicable here, is for claims related to voting.  The Court said, “The basic right to participate in political processes as voters and candidates cannot be limited to those who can pay for a license.”  The Court cited a long line of cases supporting this principle.  In asserting that the Amendment 4 and SB7066 requirement for payment of financial obligations is subject only to highly deferential rational-basis scrutiny, the Secretary ignores this exception.

The second exception is for claims related to criminal or quasi-criminal processes. Cases applying this exception hold that punishment cannot be increased because of a defendant’s inability to pay. See, e.g., Bearden v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660 (1983) (holding that probation cannot be revoked based on failure to pay an amount the defendant is financially unable to pay). Disenfranchisement of felons has a regulatory component, see, e.g., Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 96-97 (1958), and when so viewed, disenfranchisement is subject only to the first M.L.B. exception, not this second one. But when the purpose of disenfranchisement is to punish, this second exception applies. If, after adoption of Amendment 4, the purported justification for requiring payment of financial obligations is only to ensure that felons pay their “debt to society”—that is, that they are fully punished—this second M.L.B. exception is fully applicable.

Another case applying these principles is Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966), which was cited in both M.L.B. and the Johnson footnote. In Harper the Supreme Court said “[v]oter qualification has no relation to wealth.”  The Court continued, “[w]ealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.”  And the Court added, “[t]o introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a voter’s qualifications is to introduce a capricious or irrelevant factor.” The Secretary says none of this is true when the voter is a felon, but the Secretary does not explain how a felon’s wealth is more relevant than any other voter’s. And Johnson plainly rejected the Secretary’s proposed distinction.

[some citations omitted]

Judge Hinkle's remedy was not to entirely enjoin the enforcement of the statute. Instead, Florida must follow its procedures and amend them if need be to allow indigent persons to demonstrate their inability to pay any restitution, fines, or fees. Nevertheless, this is a victory for those who have argued that the Florida statute undermined Amendment 4.

[image via]

 

October 18, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Fundamental Rights, Opinion Analysis, Standing, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

District Court Halts Enforcement of California Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Taxes

Judge Morrison C. England, Jr., (E.D. Cal.) granted President Trump's motion for a preliminary injunction yesterday and halted enforcement of California's new requirement that presidential primary candidates file their income tax returns with the state before gaining a place on the primary ballot.

The ruling puts a temporary stop to California's effort to press President Trump to reveal his tax returns.

The case tests California's requirement that candidates in the California primary election for president file their tax returns with the state before the state will list them on the ballot. Here's the measure:

Notwithstanding any other law, the Secretary of State shall not print the name of a candidate for President of the United States on a primary election ballot, unless the candidate, at least 98 days before the presidential primary election, files with the Secretary of State copies of every income tax return the candidate filed with the Internal Revenue Service in the five most recent taxable years.

California said that it adopted the measure in order to help its voters make an informed choice among candidates in the primary election. But it was pretty clearly a blunt effort to force President Trump to file his tax returns, which the state could then make public.

The court ruled that the requirement likely violated the Article II Qualifications Clause, the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause.

As to Qualifications, the court drew on U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, where the Court struck Arkansas's effort to impose term limits on its members of Congress. The Court in Thornton ruled that the state's term limits impermissibly added a qualification to its members of Congress over and above the minimum qualifications set in the Article I Qualifications Clause. Judge England ruled that the same principle applies to a state's additional qualifications over and above the minimums set in the Article II Qualifications Clause, and that California's requirement amounts to just such an additional qualification.

As to the First Amendment, Judge England held that California's requirement amounts to a "severe restriction" on the right to access the ballot, the right to political association, the right to vote, and the right to express political preferences. The court applied strict scrutiny and held that the requirement failed.

Finally, as to equal protection, Judge England held that the requirement impermissibly treated partisan primary candidates differently than independent candidates (who are not subject to the requirement). "The State lacks any valid interest in providing voters with more information about party-backed candidates than independent candidates, especially when such requirements can lead to the exclusion of only major party candidates on the ballot."

October 2, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 27, 2019

SCOTUS Remands Census Citizenship Case to Department of Commerce

In its highly anticipated opinion in Department of Commerce v. New York on the issue of whether the decision by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to include a citizenship question on the main census questionnaire for 2020 is lawful, the Court held that given the "unusual circumstances" of the case, the matter should be remanded to the agency to provide a "reasoned explanation" for its decision pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), thus affirming the district court on this point.

Chief Justice Roberts's opinion for the Court is relatively brief — 29 pages — but the brevity is undercut by the shifting alliances within the opinion's sections and the additional 58 pages of opinions concurring in part and dissenting in part. 

Recall the basic issue from oral argument: whether the challengers had standing, the actual enumeration requirements in the Constitution, Art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and Amend. XIV, § 2, and the nonconstitutional issues centering on the Administrative Procedure Act. The equal protection argument receded into the background on appeal, but has re-emerged in other proceedings.

After explaining the facts and procedural history, including the rather unusual question of whether the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, should be deposed, the Court unanimously held the challengers had standing, rejecting the government's contrary contention: "we are satisfied that, in these circumstances, respondents have met their burden of showing that third parties will likely react in predictable ways to the citizenship question, even if they do so unlawfully and despite the requirement that the Government keep individual answers confidential."

A majority of the Court, Roberts joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — held that the Enumeration Clause did not provide a basis to set aside the determination of Wilbur Ross. The majority held that the Constitution vests Congress with virtually unlimited discretion to conduct the census, and that Congress has delegated this broad authority to the Secretary of Commerce.  The majority stated that "history matters" so that "early understanding and long practice" of inquiring about citizenship on the census should control.

A notably different but numerically larger — 7 Justices — rejected the government's contention that the discretion given by Congress to the Secretary of Commerce is so broad as to be unreviewable. There is "law to apply" and the statute provides criteria for meaningful review.  Only Justices Alito and Gorsuch disagreed with this conclusion.

And yet another majority, the same majority as the holding for no claim under the Enumeration Clause — Roberts was joined by Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — rejected the claim "at the heart of this suit" that Secretary Ross "abused his discretion in deciding to reinstate the citizenship question." Essentially, this majority held that because the statute gives the Secretary to make policy choices and "the evidence before the Secretary hardly led ineluctably to just one reasonable course of action."

That same majority rejected the claim of violations of the APA by Secretary Ross in the collection of information and data, and even if he did so, it was harmless.

Finally, the Chief Justice's opinion for the Court — this time with a majority of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, considered the district judge's conclusion that the decision of the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, rested on a pretextual basis. The Court's opinion reviewed the evidence presented to the district court:

That evidence showed that the Secretary was determined to reinstate a citizenship question from the time he entered office; instructed his staff to make it happen; waited while Commerce officials explored whether another agency would request census-based citizenship data; subsequently contacted the Attorney General himself to ask if DOJ would make the request; and adopted the Voting Rights Act rationale late in the process. In the District Court’s view, this evidence established that the Secretary had made up his mind to reinstate a citizenship question “well before” receiving DOJ’s request, and did so for reasons unknown but unrelated to the VRA.

After considering other evidence, the Court concluded:

Altogether, the evidence tells a story that does not match the explanation the Secretary gave for his decision. In the Secretary’s telling, Commerce was simply acting on a routine data request from another agency. Yet the materials before us indicate that Commerce went to great lengths to elicit the request from DOJ (or any other willing agency). And unlike a typical case in which an agency may have both stated and unstated reasons for a decision, here the VRA enforcement rationale—the sole stated reason—seems to have been contrived.

We are presented, in other words, with an explanation for agency action that is incongruent with what the record reveals about the agency’s priorities and decisionmaking process. It is rare to review a record as extensive as the one before us when evaluating informal agency action— and it should be. But having done so for the sufficient reasons we have explained, we cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given. Our review is deferential, but we are “not required to exhibit a naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free.” United States v. Stanchich, 550 F. 2d 1294, 1300 (CA2 1977) (Friendly, J.). The reasoned explanation requirement of administrative law, after all, is meant to ensure that agencies offer genuine justifications for important decisions, reasons that can be scrutinized by courts and the interested public. Accepting contrived reasons would defeat the purpose of the enterprise. If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case.

In these unusual circumstances, the District Court was warranted in remanding to the agency . . . .

Thus the Court remanded the decision to the agency for further explanation.  To be sure, this conclusion and section seems inconsistent with the "abuse of discretion" section finding no "abuse of discretion."  And notably, Chief Justice Roberts is the only Justice supporting both of those conclusions.

Also notably, the Court's opinion does not comment on any of the recently revealed evidence or new proceedings - updates shortly.

500px-Seal_of_the_United_States_Census_Bureau.svg

 

June 27, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Interpretation, Opinion Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

SCOTUS Finds Partisan Gerrymandering Non-Justiciable Political Question

In its opinion in Rucho v. Common Cause, consolidated with Lamone v. Benisek, a sharply divided United States Supreme Court decided that the judicial branch has no role to play in challenges to redistricting based upon partisan gerrymandering.

Recall that Rucho involved the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina. The major question raised by the arguments was whether the courts have any role in protecting voters from partisan gerrymandering; Recall also that in an almost 200 page opinion, the three judge court resolved the issues of justiciability and standing in favor of the plaintiffs and held that the redistricting violated equal protection. 
Recall that Lamone involved the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in Maryland. The oral argument centered the First Amendment, but equal protection doctrine did surface in the context of comparing racial gerrymandering which is analyzed under the Equal Protection Clause. 

And also recall that while the Court had previously taken on the issue of partisan gerrymandering, it dodged answering the ultimate question. Today, the Court's 5-4 decision makes that dodge permanent for all federal courts by holding that the questions is a nonjusticiable political question.

1024px-The_Gerry-Mander_EditWriting for the Court, Chief Justice Roberts — joined by Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh — held that challenges to partisan gerrymandering involve a political question because they lack “judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving them, citing Baker v. Carr (1962).  The majority then rejects all the "tests" (quotation marks in original) for resolving the issue. (Recall that Chief Justice Roberts's expressed skepticism about developing standards in the oral arguments on an earlier partisan redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford, calling the political science of redistricting "gobbledygook").  It is not that there is no relief, the majority concludes.  While partisan gerrymandering is "incompatible with democratic principles," as the Court had previously stated in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Comm’n (2015), and the majority opinion "does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering," the remedy is in the state courts. Or Congress might pass a law to address the matter, citing as an example the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act Bill, although the Court does not express a view on this or other pending proposals.

In dissent, Justice Kagan — joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor — begins by stating "For the first time ever, this Court refuses to remedy a constitutional violation because it thinks it is beyond its judicial capabilities."  Kagan's impassioned dissent, as long as the majority opinion, and parts of which she read from the bench (a rare practice for her), explains that democracy is at stake and if "left unchecked, gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government.  The dissenting opinion suggests that the majority has not paid sufficient attention to the constitutional harms at the core of these cases, and discusses the cases, concluding that no one thinks this is how democracy should work, and that in the past the Court has recognized the infringement to individual rights partisan gerrymandering inflicts.  As for standards, the four dissenters argue that courts have developed a framework for analyzing claims of partisan gerrymandering, including the workable standard the three judge courts in Rucho and Lamone used.  As for state courts, Kagan's opinion asks "what do those courts know that this Court cannot? If they can develop and apply neutral and manageable standards to identify unconstitutional gerrymanders, why couldn't we?"

Given that former-Justice Kennedy had a central role in arguing for a First Amendment right to challenge partisan gerrymandering, his retirement and replacement by Justice Kavanaugh made the majority for an opinion that Chief Justice Roberts had seemingly long wanted.

 

June 27, 2019 in Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, Opinion Analysis, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2019

SCOTUS Finds Virginia House Lacks Standing to Appeal Racial Gerrymandering

In its divided opinion in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, the Court concluded that the Virginia House of Delegates, one of two chambers in the state legislature, did not have standing to appeal the judgment of the three judge district court that eleven districts in its 2011 redistricting plan were racially gerrymandered and violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Recall that in its previous appearance before the United States Supreme Court, Virginia's 2011 redistricting plan caused the Court to clarify the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. In Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections (2017), the Court affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts.  It was on this remand that the three-judge court found that these other eleven districts also violated the Equal Protection Clause. 

Recall also that at oral argument, the questions of standing to appeal were intermixed with the factually-intense merits, so that details about the processes leading to the actual redistricting map and its impacts complexified the arguments.

The Court did not reach the merits, but decided the case on lack of standing to appeal. As Justice Ginsburg, writing for the majority, phrased it, after the 2018 three-judge court decision, Virginia decided it "would rather stop than fight on," and Virginia did not appeal. However, the Virginia House of Delegates did pursue an appeal.  Ginsburg — joined by Justices Thomas, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Gorsuch — held that the House of Delegates did not have standing to appeal.

The majority held that the House of Delegates had no standing to represent the interests of the State of Virginia. A State has the authority to designate the entities to represent it and in the case of Virginia it has given this authority exclusively to the state Attorney General.

Further, the majority held that the Virginia House of Delegates did not have standing in its own right, as it did not have a distinct injury. "Just as individual members of Congress do not have standing to assert the institutional interests of the legislature, "a single House of a bicameral legislature lacks capacity to assert interests belonging to the legislature as a whole." The Court also rejected specific injury to the House of Delegates because redrawing district lines would harm it.

Justice Alito, writing the dissenting opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Breyer and Kavanaugh, argued that the House of delegates did experience specific injury in fact, given that a representative represents a specific set of constituents with specific interests and this would be changed by redistricting. 

The contentious redistricting in Virginia (as well as other states) is not brought any closer to resolution by the Court's decision, but it does mean that Virginia's choice to end this round of the litigation must be a unitary one. 

Virginia_1612_map

image: map of Virginia circa 1612 via

June 17, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 7, 2019

Seventh Circuit Upholds Ballot Access Requirement

The Seventh Circuit this week upheld a signatures requirement to get on the ballot in the Cook County sheriff's race.

The case, Acevedo v. Cook County Officers Electoral Board, arose when Acevedo, a would-be candidate for Cook County sheriff, failed to obtain the necessary signatures of 0.5% of qualified voters in Cook County. Acevedo noted that the signatures formula for Cook County sheriff required him to obtain more signatures (0.5% of qualified voters equals 8,236 signatures) than candidates for statewide offices (who must get only 5,000 signatures). He claimed that the signatures requirement for Cook County therefore violated strict scrutiny (because the lower signatures requirement for statewide offices showed that the government could meet its interest in a less burdensome way).

The Seventh Circuit rejected the claim. Applying the Anderson-Burdick balancing test, the court said that strict scrutiny was far too high a standard, and that the government easily met it:

We have stressed before that "[w]hat is ultimately important is not the absolute or relative number of signatures required by whether a 'reasonably diligent candidate could be expected to be able to meet the requirements and gain a place on the ballot.'" If the burden imposed is slight, Anderson and Burdick make clear that no justification beyond the state's interest in orderly and fair elections is necessary--even if less burdensome alternatives are available.

The ruling ends this challenge and upholds the signatures requirement for Cook County sheriff.

June 7, 2019 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument on Census Citizenship Question

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments  in Department of Commerce v. New York on the issue of whether the decision by Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to include a citizenship question on the main census questionnaire for 2020 is lawful. The constitutional issues in the case include the standing of the challengers and the "actual enumeration" requirements in the Constitution, Art. I, § 2, cl. 3, and Amend. XIV, § 2.  The equal protection argument has seemingly receded into the background. Taking center stage are the nonconstitutional issues centering on the Administrative Procedure Act.

Recall that the case was originally before the Court on an order requiring Secretary Wilbur Ross to submit to a deposition.  However, Recall that in January in New York v. United States Department of Commerce, United States District Judge Jesse Furman decided the case without the Secretary's evidence, finding that without it there was no proof of discriminatory intent sufficient for an equal protection challenge.  Nevertheless, Judge Furman vacated and enjoined the implementation of the decision of Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire, holding that the Secretary's decision violated provisions of the APA, was arbitrary and capricious, and most unusually, pretextual.  

Recall also that in March California v. Ross, United States District Judge Richard Seeborg has found the decision of Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census unlawful under the Administration Procedure Act and unconstitutional under the Enumeration Clause.

Arguing for the United States Department of Commerce, Solicitor General Noel Francisco was quickly interrupted by Justice Sotomayor in his very first description of the facts  — that "Secretary Ross reinstated a citizenship question that has been asked as part of the census in one form or another for nearly 200 years" — when she noted that the citizenship question was not part of the short survey that is at issue in the present case.  In short, Solicitor General Francisco's argument was that the Secretary has wide discretion to put whatever questions he'd like on the census for whatever reason.  While Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Alito, and Chief Justice Roberts seemed sympathetic to this wide discretion, especially in their subsequent questioning, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan characterized the Secretary's decision as a "solution in search of a problem." 

Justice Kagan: . . . [as] Justice Sotomayor was talking about was that it did really seem like the Secretary was shopping for a need. Goes to the Justice Department. Justice Department says we don't need anything. Goes to DHS. DHS says they don't need anything. Goes back to the Justice Department. Makes it clear that he's going to put in a call to the Attorney General. Finally, the Justice Department comes back to him and says: Okay, we can give you what you want.

So you can't read this record without sensing that this -- this need is a contrived one. Nobody had -- there have been lots of assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division that have never made a plea for this kind of data.

The Solicitor General of New York (and former Attorney General of New York) Barbara Underwood argued that there was nothing before the Secretary to support the notion that this would assist in making determinations under the Voting Rights Act. Justice Kavanaugh interestingly asked Underwood about United Nations recommendations for citizenship questions, a topic which Douglas Letter came back to during his argument, representing the United States House of Representatives as amicus curiae in support of New York and the other respondents, stating that other nations may not have an "actual enumeration" Clause in their constitutions, and stressing the importance of accurate census data to the House of Representatives given its purpose in representation.

Dale Ho, arguing for New York Immigration Coalition, discussed the intersection between the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the census, explaining how the Census Bureau alters and approximates information.

Assuming the Court does not reach the constitutional issues, the heart of the case under the APA will be how much deference the Court is willing to afford to the Secretary.  This deference to the Secretary's discretion was interestingly implicated in the argument concerning the question of the Congressional role, with Douglas Letter pointing out that

The Secretary of Commerce has been called before Congress to explain what he did here, and Assistant Attorney General Gore . . .  They have been declining to answer. They're not giving Congress the information it requests because they say there's litigation going on. And, I repeat, this is a matter of public record.

Given recent other matters of public record in which government officials are refusing to come before Congress, more may be at stake in this case than the APA, including separation of powers issues.

April 23, 2019 in Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Executive Authority, Oral Argument Analysis, Race, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments in Partisan Gerrymandering Case

The Court heard oral arguments in Rucho v. Common Cause (& League of Women Voters) regarding the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina. The major question raised by the arguments was whether the courts have any role in protecting voters from partisan gerrymandering.

Recall that in an almost 200 page opinion, the three judge court resolved the issues of justiciability and standing in favor of the plaintiffs and held that the redistricting violated equal protection. The United States Supreme Court stayed that judgment.

Recall also that last term the Court essentially dodged the issue of the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering, finding in Gill v. Whitford involving a challenge to Wisconsin's alleged partisan gerrymandering the Court found that the plaintiffs did not prove sufficient Article III standing to sustain the relief granted by the three judge court and in Benisek v. Lamone, involving a challenge to alleged political gerrymandering in Maryland, declining to to disturb the three judge court's decision not to grant a preliminary injunction.

The question of the standard by which to judge partisan gerrymandering preoccupied the arguments with the inevitable slippery slope of having the courts guarantee proportional representation being invoked.  Additionally, the question of whether the federal courts should defer was raised repeatedly, with the solution being a state referendum, or even Congressional action, with Paul Clement representing the republican state legislators arguing that

And if you look at HR-1, the very first bill that the new Congress put on their agenda, it was an effort to essentially force states to have bipartisan commissions, now query whether that's constitutional, but it certainly shows that Congress is able to take action in this particular area.

[emphasis added].

Clement argued vigorously that the federal courts should have no power to act to prevent partisan gerrymandering, however extreme, with Justice Sotomayor stating that such an argument's "ship has sailed in Baker v. Carr" (1962), but Clement concluding with the point in his rebuttal referencing the authors of the Federalist Papers as accepting the political realities of partisan gerrymandering.

 

March 26, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Due Process (Substantive), Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Oral Argument Analysis, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 18, 2019

SCOTUS Hears Oral Argument on Virginia Racial Gerrymandering, Bethune-Hill Redux

The United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill involving the ultimate issue of whether the redistricting plan of Virginia is racial gerrymandering in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Like many states, the redistricting legal landscape in Virginia is complex; a good explainer from Loyola-Los Angeles Law School is here.

Recall that two years ago, in March 2017, the Court in Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, the Court clarified the standard for deciding whether racial considerations in reapportionment violate the Equal Protection Clause. It affirmed the three-judge court's decision as to one of the districts as constitutionally considering race, but remanded the determination of the constitutional status of the other eleven districts. 

On remand, the three-judge court divided, with the detailed and extensive opinion authored by Judge Barbara Milano Keenan for the majority ultimately concluding that the "Commonwealth of Virginia's House of Delegates  Districts numbers 63, 69, 70, 71, 74, 77, 80, 89, 90, 92, and 95 as drawn under the 2011 Redistricting Plan, Va. Code Ann. § 24.2—3o4.03, violate the Equal Protection Clause. "

Speaker_Bill_Howell_opens_session_at_Virginia_House_of_DelegatesDuring that proceeding, the Virginia House of Delegates — one house of the Virginia legislature — was allowed to intervene, but a question on appeal to the United States Supreme Court is whether the House of Delegates, represented by Paul Clement, has standing to appeal, especially given that the Virginia Board of Elections, represented by Toby Heytens, the appellate the first time the case reached the United States Supreme Court, is now the appellee in agreement with Bethune-Hill, represented by Marc Elias. Morgan Ratner, an assistant Solicitor General, appeared on behalf of the United States and fully supported neither party, but did argue that the House of Delegates lacked standing, because "the House as an institution isn't harmed by changes to individual district lines, and while states can authorize legislatures to represent them in court, Virginia hasn't done so."  While Justice Alito seemed to take the position that all the House of Delegates needed to establish was some injury on fact, such as  the cost of publishing a new map showing the new districts, with Justice Sotomayor labeling Clement's statement that Virginia had "forfeited" the ability to object to the appeal as an "extreme" view.  There was seemingly some sympathy to Toby Heytens' view that the Court was essentially being asked to referee a dispute between branches of the Virginia state government, with Justice Alito also asking whether or not the question of which entity may represent the state is not a question that should be certified to the Virginia Supreme Court.  The precedential value and applicability of Minnesota State Senate v. Beens (1972), which Justice Ginsburg pointed out has not been cited in 30 years and was from an era in which standing was more "relaxed" and which others distinguished in terms of the impact on the legislative body.

On the merits, one issue was credibility of witnesses and deference to the court's factual determinations, especially given that the first three judge court had reached some opposite conclusions, including in some districts whether or not racial considerations predominated (and thus strict scrutiny would apply). This might seemingly be explained by the different standard articulated by the Court's previous decision in Bethune-Hill before remand, but this did not seem to be addressed. As typical, the precise facts in the map-making and the interplay between the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause made the argument exceedingly detailed. For example, there are particular questions about the BVAP [Black Voting Age Population] in specific districts and what percentage is acceptable in each district as individualized or as comparative to other districts.

If the Court does not resolve the case on lack of standing, one can expect another highly specific opinion regarding racial gerrymandering in the continuing difficult saga of racial equality in voting.

[image: Virginia House of Delegates 2012 via]

March 18, 2019 in Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, Fourteenth Amendment, Race, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)