Thursday, November 15, 2018
In his opinion in Democratic Executive Committee of Florida v. Detzner, United States District Judge Mark Walker, Chief Judge for the Northern District of Florida, has granted the motion for a preliminary injunction and ordered Florida to "allow voters who have been belatedly notified they have submitted a mismatched-signature ballot to cure their ballots by November 17, 2018, at 5:00 p.m."
After finding that the plaintiffs had standing and were not barred by laches, Judge Walker reached the question of whether the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on their constitutional claims on the infringement of the right to vote. Judge Walker decided that the standard derived from Anderson-Burdick should be applied:
Under Anderson-Burdick, 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 plaintiff’s rights.’ ” Burdick. When an election law imposes only reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions upon the constitutional rights of voters, the states’ important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify the restrictions. Id. But, “[h]owever slight the burden may appear . . . it must be justified by relevant and legitimate state interests sufficiently weighty to justify the limitations.” Common Cause/Ga. v. Billups, 554 F.3d 1340, 1352 (11th Cir. 2009). This is not a litmus test, rather the court must balance these factors and make hard judgments. Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Bd., 553 U.S. 181, 190 (2008). Finally, “Anderson/Burdick balancing . . . should not be divorced from reality, and  both the burden and legitimate regulatory interest should be evaluated in context.”
[some citations omitted]
Judge Walker found that the "injury is the deprivation of the right to vote based on a standardless determination made by laypeople that the signature on a voters’ vote-by-mail or provisional ballot does not match the signature on file with the supervisor of elections." The judge noted that there are "dozens of reasons a signature mismatch may occur, even when the individual signing is in fact the voter," and concluded that disenfranchisement of "approximately 5,000 voters based on signature mismatch is a substantial burden." While Judge Walker found that Florida's interests "to prevent fraud, to efficiently and quickly report election results, and to promote faith and certainty in election results" were compelling, the "use of signature matching is not reasonable and may lead to unconstitutional disenfranchisement."
Judge Walker extended the period for voters to address a potential signature mismatch by noting that the previous opportunity to cure has "proved illusory."
Provisional ballot voters are provided no opportunity to cure under the law. Without this Court’s intervention, these potential voters have no remedy. Rather, they are simply out of luck and deprived of the right to vote. What is shocking about Florida law is that even though a voter cannot challenge a vote rejected as illegal, any voter or candidate could challenge a vote accepted as legal. The burden on the right to vote, in this case, outweighs the state’s reasons for the practice. Thus, under Anderson-Burdick, this scheme unconstitutionally burdens the fundamental right of Florida citizens to vote and have their votes counted.
Additionally, Judge Walker noted that although the plaintiffs' claims rested on the First Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, he was also troubled by the lack of procedural due process, citing the Georgia mismatch decision in Martin v. Kemp.
Judge Walker's 34 page opinion did not cite Bush v. Gore (2000).
The Florida recount, like the Georgia recount continues, more than a week after election day.
Friday, November 2, 2018
In an Order in Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda v. Kemp, United States District Judge Eleanor Ross has found that the challengers would be likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claim regarding Georgia's flagging of potential voters as noncitizens ineligible to vote. Recall that a different district judge recently issued an injunction against Secretary of State Kemp — who is also a candidate for Governor — in a challenge to the "mismatch" of voter names.
Here, Judge Ross articulated the appropriate framework as:
When deciding whether a state election law violates First and Fourteenth Amendment associational rights, we weigh the character and magnitude of the burden the State’s rule imposes on those rights against the interests the State contends justify that burden, and consider the extent to which the State’s concerns make the burden necessary.
Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 358 (1997).
Judge Ross first found that the burden was "severe for those individuals who have been flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship." Discussing one particular person, Judge Ross stated that
it was not a nominal effort for him to vote; it was a burdensome process requiring two trips to the polls, his own research, and his hunting down a name and telephone number to give to election officials so that his citizenship status could be verified, all after he had already submitted proof of citizenship with his voter registration application. This is beyond the merely inconvenient.
Relying on Timmons, Judge Ross continued with a strict scrutiny analysis, finding that while the State's interest in ensuring only citizens vote was compelling, the specific means chosen were not narrowly tailored. Here, the focus was on the fact that 4 of the 5 ways in which the State proposed that persons could verify their citizenship required a "deputy registrar," which were derived from a previous settlement. However, Judge Ross declared that the court's hands were not tied as to this matter, and ultimately all 5 of the options "for allowing individuals with flags for citizenship to vote in the upcoming election, sweep broader than necessary to advance the State's interest, creating confusion as Election Day looms."
Judge Ross directed Brian Kemp in his official capacity as Secretary of State to:
Allow county election officials to permit eligible voters who registered to vote, but who are inaccurately flagged as non-citizens to vote a regular ballot by furnishing proof of citizenship to poll managers or deputy registrars.
Update the “Information for Pending Voters” on the Secretary of State’s website so that it provides (a) clear instructions and guidance to voters in pending status due to citizenship and (b) a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.
Direct all county registrars, deputy registrars, and poll managers on how to verify proof of citizenship to ensure that they can properly confirm citizenship status consistent with this order. Issue a press release (a) accurately describing how an individual flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship may vote in the upcoming election, as set forth herein; and (b) providing a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.
Issue a press release (a) accurately describing how an individual flagged and placed in pending status due to citizenship may vote in the upcoming election, as set forth herein; and (b) providing a contact name and telephone number that individuals may call with questions about the pending status due to citizenship.
- Direct the county boards of elections to post a list of acceptable documentation to prove citizenship, which includes a naturalization certificate, birth certificate issued by a state or territory within the United States, U.S. passport, and other documents or affidavits explicitly identified by Georgia law and listed on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website, at polling places on Election Day.
Wednesday, October 24, 2018
In her Order & Opinion in Martin v. Kemp, United States District Judge Leigh Martin May stated she would enjoin county election officials from simply rejecting absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots due to an "alleged signature mismatch" but shall instead follow additional procedures. There has reportedly been some controversy regarding the Defendant Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, who is also a candidate for Governor, and the voter restrictions he oversees.
Judge May found that the plaintiffs and plaintiff organizations had standing, there was no laches, and that a facial challenge was appropriate. She also concluded that there was a substantial likelihood of success on the procedural due process challenge (and thus did not reach the other constitutional challenges).
Judge May quickly concluded that the plaintiffs had a constitutionally protected liberty interest in the right to vote by absentee ballot:
While Defendants correctly assert that the right to apply for and vote via absentee ballot is not constitutionally on par with the fundamental right to vote, once the state creates an absentee voting regime, they “must administer it in accordance with the Constitution.” Indeed, the Supreme Court has long held that state- created statutory entitlements can trigger due process. Having created an absentee voter regime through which qualified voters can exercise their fundamental right to vote, the State must now provide absentee voters with constitutionally adequate due process protection.
Turning to the issue of the process that is due, Judge May applied the well-known Mathews v. Edlridge (1976) factors. On the first factor weighing the private interest at issue, Judge May stated that the interest implicated the fundamental right to vote and as such was "entitled to substantial weight." On the second factor regarding the risk of erroneous deprivation and the probative value, if any, of additional procedural safeguards, Judge May found that while "the risk of an erroneous deprivation is by no means enormous, permitting an absentee voter to resolve an alleged signature discrepancy nevertheless has the very tangible benefit of avoiding disenfranchisement." On the third and final factor requiring the court to examine the government’s interest, including “the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail,” Judge May concluded that "Defendants cannot cry foul with regard to the burden of additional procedures given that Defendants conceded at oral argument that counties already permit voters to verify their signatures through extrinsic evidence on an ad hoc basis." Further, the remedy of the voter simply showing up did not apply to voters who vote by mail because they cannot show up in person. Thus, Judge May found there was likely a procedural due process problem.
The judge's Order included a proposed injunction, giving the parties until noon on October 25 to object to the form of the injunction, stressing that this was not an "opportunity to readdress the propriety" of the injunction, only whether the language of the injunction would be confusing or unworkable for election officials.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
The Supreme Court yesterday declined to intervene in a case challenging North Dakota's voter-ID law. The move allows the law to go into effect for the upcoming elections.
The action (or lack of it) is significant, because of the nature of the law. As Pema Levy explains at Mother Jones, the ND law requires ND voters to show proof of a residential address in order to cast a ballot. But it says that PO boxes don't count. That matters, because Native American voters in ND often lack street address, and instead use PO boxes, because the U.S. Postal Service doesn't provide residential delivery in rural Native American communities.
The legislature enacted the law after the state elected Heidi Heitkamp to the Senate by a very slim margin, and with the strong backing of Native American voters. Heitkamp is the only statewide elected Democrat in the state.
Justice Ginsburg, joined by Justice Kagan, dissented. She wrote that not intervening in the case and vacating an Eighth Circuit stay risks voter confusion (because the law was halted by a lower court for the primaries), and that "the risk of disfranchisement is large."
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Check out Emily Bazelon's feature in the New York Times Magazine, Will Florida's Ex-Felons Finally Regain the Right to Vote?, on the history of felon disenfranchisement in the state, and the referendum effort to re-enfranchise 1.5 million ex-felons.
Monday, September 24, 2018
In its divided opinion in Brakebill v. Jaeger, an Eighth Circuit panel has stayed a district judge's injunction against enforcement of a North Dakota statute requiring a valid form of identification that includes the prospective voter's current residential street address in North Dakota. The district court had found that this provision violated the Equal Protection Clause and ordered that the state accept either a "current residential street address or a current mailing address (P.O. Box or other address) in North Dakota.” (The district court had also found that other tribal identification rules violated equal protection, but the state did not appeal those portions of the injunction.)
The majority of the Eighth Circuit reasoned that this residential street address requirement was neutral and as applied to the six named plaintiffs, did not impose an excessive burden. In its brief opinion, the majority concluded that North Dakota was not only likely to succeed on the merits, but would also be irreparably harmed without a stay, in large part because North Dakota does not have a voter registration requirement. "
If the Secretary must accept forms of identification that list only a mailing address, such as a post office box, then voters could cast a ballot in the wrong precinct and dilute the votes of those who reside in the precinct. Enough wrong-precinct voters could even affect the outcome of a local election. The dissent’s suggestion that the State protect itself from this harm by using maps or affidavits would require North Dakota to reinstate self-certification methods that the legislature already deemed insufficiently reliable when it adopted the residential street address requirement. The inability to require proof of a residential street address in North Dakota also opens the possibility of fraud by voters who have obtained a North Dakota form of identification but reside in another State while maintaining a mailing address in North Dakota to vote. The dissent deems this impossible, because only a resident of the State is supposed to receive a form of identification, but the injunction prevents election officials from verifying that a voter with such an identification has a current residential street address in the State. Even if the State can prosecute fraudulent voters after the fact, it would be irreparably harmed by allowing them to vote in the election.
Dissenting, Judge Jane Kelly argued that it was important that identification cards required a fee, and though state law required the Department of Transportation to provide free non-driver identification cards, the state did not do so in practice (and its website actually stated that a fee was necessary). Instead of an injury to North Dakota, Judge Kelly contended that the injury would be to prospective voters, like the six Native American plaintiffs, who would be potentially denied the right to vote.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
The Supreme Court yesterday declined to stay a lower court ruling that struck an FEC reg that created a disclosure loophole for 501(c)(4) organizations.
The reg allowed 501(c)(4)s and cooperating super-PACs to avoid statutory disclosure requirements. The district court ruled that the reg was at odds with statutory disclosure requirements.
Chief Justice Roberts last week issued an order (without opinion) staying the district court ruling, but yesterday the full Court vacated the Chief's order and denied the stay (also without an opinion).
Under the (now not stayed) district court ruling, the FEC has 45 days to come up with new regs that comply with the statute.
Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Eighth Circuit: Missouri Constitutional Amendment Prohibiting Inter-PAC Contributions Violates First Amendment
In its brief opinion in Free and Fair Election Fund v. Missouri Ethics Commission, a panel of the Eighth Circuit agreed with the district judge that Mo. Const. Art. VIII §23.3 violates the First Amendment.
The Missouri constitutional provision, approved by voters in November 2016, prohibited political action committees (PACs) from receiving contributions from other political action committees. The PAC Free and Fair Election Fund quickly challenged the constitutional amendment contending that the inter-PAC transfer ban violated the First Amendment. The district judge and appellate panel agreed, reasoning that restricting the recipients to whom a PAC can donate "limits the donor-PAC’s speech and associational rights under the First Amendment," and thus "the challenged law must advance a sufficiently important state interest and employ means closely drawn to avoid unnecessary abridgment of First Amendment freedoms."
Quoting McCutcheon v. FEC (2014), the Eighth Circuit reasoned:
There is only one legitimate state interest in restricting campaign finances: “preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption.” This interest is limited to preventing “only a specific type of corruption—‘quid pro quo’ corruption” or its appearance. A large donation that is not made “in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to . . . quid pro quo corruption.” Similarly, the general risk that a donor, through large donations, will “garner influence over or access to elected officials or political parties,” either in fact or in appearance, is insufficient to create quid pro quo corruption. Instead, “the risk of quid pro quo corruption is generally applicable only to the narrow category of money gifts that are directed, in some manner, to a candidate or officeholder.”
[citations omitted]. The Eighth Circuit held that the inter-PAC transfer ban "does little, if anything, to further the objective of preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption," distinguishing the 2016 Eleventh Circuit decision in Alabama Democratic Conference v. Attorney General of Alabama, because "unlike Alabama, Missouri limits the contributions that a PAC can make to a candidate, so the anti-corruption interest cited in support of the Alabama law is diminished here."
The Eighth Circuit further found that the transfer ban was not closely drawn: "the risk of corruption from PAC- to-PAC transfers is modest at best, and other regulations like contribution limits and disclosure requirements act as prophylactic measures against quid pro quo corruption."
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the injunction against the Missouri constitutional provision, perhaps setting up a circuit conflict on the constitutionality of inter-PAC transfers.
Monday, August 27, 2018
In an extensive opinion, a three judge court in Common Cause v. Rucho (& League of Women Voters v. Rucho) held that North Carolina's 2016 redistricting plan was a product of partisan gerrymandering and violates the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and Article I of the Constitution.
The opinion is almost 300 pages with an additional comparatively brief 25 plus page concurring and dissenting opinion, but the three judge court is often discussing familiar matters. Recall that the court had reached this result in January 2018. However, recall also that the United States Supreme Court issued a stay shortly thereafter. In July 2018, the United States Supreme Court vacated the three judge court's decision in Rucho in light of Gill v. Whitford (2018), which, the three judge court states, "addressed what evidence a plaintiff must put forward to establish Article III standing to lodge a partisan vote dilution claim under the Equal Protection Clause." The three judge court's opinion in Rucho holds that standing was satisfied under the Gill test as to equal protection and further that "Gill did not call into question—and, if anything, supported—this Court’s previous determination that Plaintiffs have standing to assert partisan gerrymandering claims under Article I and the First Amendment."
As for the merits, Gill v. Whitford is not particularly useful; as we said when Gill was decided, it (with the per curiam decision in Benisek v. Lamone, "leave the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering as unsettled as before." Thus, the three judge court had little guidance to reconsider its previous conclusions.
Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the three judge court's decision today in Rucho, however, is the remedy: the court notes that the circumstances are unusual and writes:
we decline to rule out the possibility that the State should be enjoined from conducting any further congressional elections using the 2016 Plan. For example, it may be possible for the State to conduct a general election using a constitutionally compliant districting plan without holding a primary election. Or, it may be viable for the State to conduct a primary election on November 6, 2018, using a constitutionally compliant congressional districting plan, and then conduct a general election sometime before the new Congress is seated in January 2019. Accordingly, no later than 5 p.m. on August 31, 2018, the parties shall file briefs addressing whether this Court should allow the State to conduct any future election using the 2016 Plan. Those briefs should discuss the viability of the alternatives discussed above, as well as any other potential schedules for conducting elections using a constitutionally compliant plan that would not unduly interfere with the State’s election machinery or confuse voters. Regardless of whether we ultimately allow the State to use the 2016 Plan in the 2018 election, we hereby enjoin the State from conducting any elections using the 2016 Plan in any election after the November 6, 2018, election.
[emphasis in original].
The November election is in 70 days.
Saturday, August 18, 2018
It is the 98th anniversary of the right to vote for United States women. Tennessee became the necessary 36th state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The Amendment was made necessary by the Court's 1874 decision in Minor v. Happersett concluding that the Fourteenth Amendment did not extend citizenship rights to women.
The Amendment was first introduced in Congress in 1878, but the amendment eventually ratified by the required three-fourths of the states was introduced in 1919, with quick ratification by Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, New York and Ohio.
As we wrote in 2010, while the Nineteenth Amendment has not engendered much constitutional jurisprudence, ConLawProf Reva Siegel has argued that the Amendment could be the basis for Congressional power to address sex discrimination. Her 2002 article, She the People: The Nineteenth Amendment, Sex Equality, Federalism, and the Family, available on ssrn, argues:
The debates over woman suffrage that began with the drafting of the Fourteenth Amendment and concluded with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment are plainly relevant to understanding how the guarantee of equal citizenship applies to women. At the founding and for generations thereafter, Americans believed women did not need the vote because they were represented in the state through male heads of household. By adopting the Nineteenth Amendment, Americans were breaking with traditional conceptions of the family that were rooted in coverture, as well as with understandings of federalism that placed family relations beyond the reach of the national government. The debates over the Nineteenth Amendment thus memorialize the nation's decision to repudiate traditional conceptions of the family that have shaped women's status in public as well as private law and that are inconsistent with equal citizenship in a democratic polity. If concepts of sex discrimination were informed by the experience and deliberative choices of past generations of Americans, equal protection doctrine would better recognize forms of discrimination historically directed at women; and the law of federalism would take a more critical approach to claims that the family is a local institution, beyond the reach of the national government.
We asked then whether a robust Nineteenth Amendment jurisprudence might yet be developed; not yet.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Check out Prof. Michael Morley's new piece, Prophylactic Redistricting? Congress's Section 5 Power and the New Equal Protection Right to Vote, in the William & Mary Law Review.
Morley argues that traditional remedial features of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act are getting squeezed from two sides: (1) Boerne and reduced congressional authority to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments mean that the Court will likely give a narrower reading to Section 2 (focusing only on intentional discrimination); and (2) the Court's shift to a "pro-equality" (and away from a "pro-vote") approach to the right to vote mean that courts will likely say that any legislative expansions of the franchise have to be shared equally by all. Here's what to do about it:
Courts may apply section 2 more aggressively to defendant jurisdictions or officials that have a recent history of engaging in intentional racial discrimination concerning the right to vote. They should also be more willing to allow prophylactic applications of section 2 in circumstances where direct evidence of constitutional violations (that is, intentional discrimination) would be impracticable or impossible to uncover. Finally, remedies under section 2 should not be broader than necessary to achieve its important prophylactic purposes. Section 2 runs a risk: the more it deviates from the mandates of the Court's developing conception of equal protection, and does so in a race-conscious manner that almost invariably inures to the benefit of a particular political party, the greater skepticism it will trigger in the courts. It places courts in the difficult position of reshaping both the rules of elections and the shape of electoral districts to attempt to replicate what a fair electoral outcome in the absence of past and present society discrimination would look like. Such awesome power demands careful use.
Thursday, July 26, 2018
In an extensive and scholarly opinion in New York v. United States Department of Commerce consolidated with New York Immigration Coalition v. United States Department of Commerce, federal judge Jesse Furman has denied in part motions to dismiss and allowed the case to proceed.
Recall that the United States Commerce Department's announcement that the 2020 Decennial Census Questionnaire will include a citizenship question, which the census has not included since 1950, has provoked several challenges including the one filed in the Southern District of New York, New York v. United States Department of Commerce, raising constitutional objections on behalf of seventeen state plaintiffs, the District of Columbia, as well as six cities and the United States Conference of Mayors. The first count of the complaint is based on the "actual enumeration" requirement and avers that adding a citizenship question will "deter participation." The allegations in the complaint regarding the link between a citizenship demand and lower participation interestingly rely on the Census Bureau's own arguments and findings. The complaint alleges that consequences of lower participation is "an undercount" that will not reflect the accurate population of the plaintiffs, effecting their representation in the House of Representatives and the Electors. Two additional counts are based on the Administration Procedure Act.
The New York Immigration Coalition complaint has "five nongovernmental organizations" as plaintiffs, challenging the Secretary’s decision on the same grounds as the states' complaint but importantly on the additional ground of equal protection.
Judge Furman first found that the "government plaintiffs" and well as the "NGO plaintiffs" had standing and then rejected that the lawsuits were political questions barred from judicial review. As Judge Furman concluded:
the Court rejects Defendants’ attempts to insulate Secretary Ross’s decision to reinstate a question about citizenship on the 2020 census from judicial review. Granted, courts must give proper deference to the Secretary, but that does not mean that they lack authority to entertain claims like those pressed here. To the contrary, courts have a critical role to play in reviewing the conduct of the political branches to ensure that the census is conducted in a manner consistent with the Constitution and applicable law.
However, Judge Furman concluded that the Plaintiffs' claims under the Enumeration Clause must be dismissed. For Judge Furman, the constitutional text's broad language combined with a historical practice that has allowed many demographic questions and once included citizenship questions leads to the result that the Secretary has power to include a citizenship query. But as Judge Furman repeatedly emphasized, this does not end the issue. For example, as Judge Furman wrote:
to say that the Secretary has authority under the Enumeration Clauseto ask about citizenship on the census is not to say that the particular exercise of that authority here was constitutional or lawful. The Secretary cannot exercise his authority in a manner that would violate individual constitutional rights, such as the right to equal protection of the laws. [citations omitted]. Nor, under the APA, may he exercise his authority in a manner that would be “arbitrary” and “capricious.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A);[citation omitted]. Plaintiffs here make both kinds of claims, and the Court’s holding that the Secretary’s decision was consonant with the Enumeration Clause does not resolve those claims.
In his discussion of the equal protection claim (under the Fifth Amendment's inclusion of equal protection), Judge Furman relegated the animus argument to a footnote stating that it need not be discussed because he found that there was a sufficient claim for a denial of equal protection on the basis of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997). Judge Furman concluded that the allegations of discriminatory effect — that inclusion of the citizenship question for all respondents will bear, in the form of diminished political representation and reduced federal funding, more heavily on “Latinos, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, and other immigrant communities of color” because the non-response rate is likely to be higher in such communities — were sufficient.
As to the required intent, Judge Furman listed the Arlington Heights factors:
(1) “[t]he historical background of the decision . . . particularly if it reveals a series of official actions taken for invidious purposes”; (2) “[t]he specific sequence of events leading up the challenged decision”; (3) “[d]epartures from the normal procedural sequence”; (4) “[s]ubstantive departures . . . , particularly if the factors usually considered important by the decisionmaker strongly favor a decision contrary to the one reached”; and (5) “[t]he legislative or administrative history . . . especially where there are contemporary statements by members of the decisionmaking body, minutes of its meetings, or reports.”
and then discussed each one, focusing on departures from normal procedures (which "include overruling career staff who strongly objected to including the citizenship question, failing to extensively test reintroduction of the question, and ignoring the recommendation of the Census Bureau’s advisory committee") and specific statements, including statements of the President. Judge Furman rejected the federal goverment's argument that consideration of such statements was improper after Trump v. Hawaii, writing that the government's invocation of the case "falls somewhere between facile and frivolous," especially given its practice of truncated quotation. Instead, Judge Furman found
There is nothing in the Court’s opinion [in Trump v. Hawaii] to indicate that its deferential review applies outside of the “national security and foreign affairs context,” let alone that the Court meant to unsettle decades of equal protection jurisprudence regarding the types of evidence a court may look to in determining a government actor’s intent. In fact, even with its “circumscribed judicial inquiry,” the Hawaii Court itself considered “extrinsic evidence” — namely, President Trump’s own statements. If anything, therefore, Hawaii cuts against Defendants’ arguments rather than in their favor.
Judge Furman thus directed the parties to proceed with discovery, inform the court whether the cases should be consolidated, and whether a trial or summary judgment would be more appropriate.
Wednesday, July 25, 2018
In his opinion in League of Women Voters v. Detzner, Chief Judge Mark Walker of the Northern District of Florida found that the Florida Secretary of State's Opinion barring early voting on any university or college campus most likely violates the First, Fourteenth, and Twenty-Sixth Amendments, and issued a preliminary injunction.
The issue involves an interpretation of the Florida's Division of Elections, under the Secretary of State, that Florida Statute §101.657(1)(a), passed in 2013, that permits supervisors of elections to “designate any city hall, permanent public library facility, fairground, civic center, courthouse, county commission building, stadium, convention center, government-owned senior center, or government-owned community center as early voting sites.” A question arose as to whether a particular hall on the University of Florida campus qualified and in response the state official issued an Opinion banning all university and college facilities for use in early voting.
Judge Walker found that the state's interpretation of the early voting statute was constitutionally faulty. While early voting is not required and may be classified as a convenience, Judge Walker quoted Bush v. Gore (2000) — “Having once granted the right to vote on equal terms, the State may not, by later arbitrary and disparate treatment, value one person’s vote over that of another" — to reason that constitutional problems emerge "when conveniences are available for some people and affirmatively blocked for others." Judge Walker began the opinion by noting that the number of people effected was substantial: more than 1.1 million "young men and women were enrolled in institutions of higher learning" in Florida in 2016, nearly 830,000 in public institutions, as well as there being another 107,000 staff members at the public institutions. To stress the number of people involved, Judge Walker wrote:
Put another way, the number of people who live and work on Florida’s public college and university campuses is greater than the population of Jacksonville, Florida—or the populations of North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.
Judge Walker first applied the the Anderson-Burdick balancing test for less than "severe restrictions." (Recall in Burdick v. Takushi (1992) the Court upheld Hawai'i 's ban on write-in voting). Judge Walker stated that even assuming the state's opinion could be construed as a reasonable nondiscriminatory restriction, it imposed significant burdens on the plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to vote, categorically prohibiting the use of on-campus early voting and thus "lopsidedly impacts Florida's youngest voters," a class of voters "particularly invested in early voting" with approximately 43 percent of Florida's college students voting early in 2016. These burdens were not justified by the state's interests — which the Judge stated "one must squint hard to identify"— in following state law, preventing parking issues, and avoiding on-campus disruption.
As to the Twenty-Sixth Amendment issue, Judge Walker found that while there was a "dearth of guidance on what test applies" when the claimed infringement is not a facial denial of voting for any citizen 18 years or older, the standard of Village of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp. (1997) was generally accepted. Judge Walker found that the state's approach revealed a stark pattern of discrimination unexplainable on grounds other than age. Judge Walker also compared the state's policy to earlier seemingly neutral attempts to effect African-American voters, noting that
This Court does not lightly compare contemporary laws and policies to more shameful eras of American history. But addressing intentional discrimination does not require kid gloves.
Having found that there was a likelihood that plaintiffs would prevail on the merits, Judge Walker also found the other requirements for a preliminary injunction were met. The judge instructed the Defendant Secretary of State to issue a directive to supervisors of elections that they retain discretion to implement the Florida statute including any sites that may be on university or college campuses.
Monday, July 2, 2018
In his opinion in Gary B. v. Snyder, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan Stephen Murphy dismissed a complaint alleging constitutional violations in the public schools in Detroit.
After finding the plaintiff students had standing and that the complaint against Governor Snyder and other officials was not barred by Eleventh Amendment immunity, Judge Snyder dismissed the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clause claims.
On the Due Process Clause claim, Judge Snyder noted that the constitutional right at issue is framed as "access to literacy" which "speaks to an opportunity" rather than simply literacy which is an "outcome of education." Using this definition, Judge Snyder distinguished the complaint from landmark cases such as San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973), rejecting "education" as a fundamental right. Nevertheless, applying the "standard" test to determine a fundamental right from Washington v. Glucksberg (1997) — "fundamental rights are only those 'objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed'"— even through the lens of Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), Judge Snyder reasoned that fundamental rights are generally only "negative rights."
Conceivably, a case like this one could be argued on either positive- or negative- right theories. As a positive right, access to literacy (i.e., a minimally adequate education) is so important that the state is compelled to provide it. As a negative right, access to literacy is so important that the state may not hinder Plaintiffs' attempts to secure it. ***
But a violation of negative rights is not what the Complaint truly seems to argue. The Complaint explains, in great detail, that the instruction and resources in Plaintiffs' schools are inadequate.
Judge Snyder reasoned that the Supreme Court's understanding of a "fundamental right," requires finding that neither liberty nor justice would exist absent state-provided literacy access, which would be "difficult to square with the fact that '[t]here was no federal or state-run school system anywhere in the United States as late as 1830.'" Thus, for Judge Snyder, the "ordered liberty" prong is tantamount to historical roots:
School districts at the time of the Constitution's ratification were formed 'when a group of farms came together and decided to construct a public building for schooling, where their children could gather and be taught reading, writing, and moral codes of instruction.' [citation omitted] The history evinces a deep American commitment to education, but runs counter to the notion that ordered society demands that a state provide one.
Thus, he concluded:
The conditions and outcomes of Plaintiffs' schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury—and so does society. But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy? Based on the foregoing analysis, the answer to the question is no.
Judge Murphy concluded that the Equal Protection Clause claim was similarly not founded. The court repeats that there is no fundamental right and further finds that there is no racial classification because there to be a "relevant comparator school" requires not only that the school in question have a different racial composition that the 97% African-American schools in Detroit but also that the school "experienced relevant state interventions" like the schools in Detroit. Thus, rational basis scrutiny applies at its most deferential — whether "there is any reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification" — and the plaintiffs did not plead "specific decisions Defendants made concerning Plaintiffs' schools that could have been made differently" and were thus irrational.
The dismissal of the complaint makes it ripe for appeal.
[image: Paul-Constant Soyer, Little Girl Reading (1864) via]
Sunday, July 1, 2018
Check out Mark Joseph Stern's piece in Slate, Partisan Gerrymandering Is About to Get Much Worse. Stern writes that Justice Kennedy's retirement will mean more than just that the Court likely won't hear partisan gerrymandering challenges; it likely will reverse its OK of independent and other kinds of redistricting commissions:
If voters approve the independent redistricting commission [in Michigan's ballot initiative], Republican state legislators are almost certain to challenge it in court. And if their lawsuit reaches the Supreme Court, Roberts will have the opportunity to turn his 2015 dissent [in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission] into law. In the process, he could strike down not only Arizona's commission, but also California's, which similarly removes legislators from the business of redistricting.
Depending on how broadly the court rules, it could put other progressive electoral reforms on the chopping block as well. If the U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures near-absolute control over redistricting, then bipartisan commissions could also be doomed.
Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Judge Julie A. Robinson (D. Kansas) ruled yesterday that Kansas's requirement that motor-voter applicants provide proof of citizenship violated the National Voter Registration Act and the constitutional right to vote. In addition, Judge Robinson took Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to task for his conduct over the course of the case, and imposed a remarkable sanction against him.
The ruling should end Kansas's documentary-proof-of-citizenship law, but we'll likely see an appeal (even if almost certainly futile, given the record).
The case tests Kansas's law that motor-voters show proof of citizenship when registering to vote against the NVRA's requirement that states automatically register voters when they apply for a driver's license--and its prohibition on states requiring more information than "necessary to . . . enable State election officials to assess the eligibility of that applicant and to administer voter registration and other parts of the election process." Judge Robinson previously issued a temporary injunction against Kansas's law, upheld by the Tenth Circuit.
As to NVRA preemption, the court applied the Tenth Circuit's rule on NVRA preemption. That rule says that the attestation requirement in Section 5 presumptively satisfies the minimum-information requirement for motor-voter registration. In order to rebut the presumption, the defendant has to show that "they cannot enforce their voter qualifications because a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered using the Federal Form" in order to adopt more strenuous information requirements.
The court said that Kobach simply didn't prove that a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered using the Federal Form, and that there wasn't another, less burdensome way to enforce the state's citizenship requirement:
Defendant was given the opportunity to retain experts and marshal evidence to meet his burden of demonstrating that "a substantial number of noncitizens have successfully registered to vote under the attestation requirement" in order to rebut the presumption that attestation meets the minimum-information requirement of Section 5 and that nothing less than DPOC is sufficient to meet his eligibility-assessment and registration duties under the NVRA. As described below, the Court finds that on the trial record Defendant has failed to make a sufficient showing on the first inquiry. Moreover, even if Defendant could demonstrate a substantial number of noncitizen registrations, he has not demonstrated that nothing less than the DPOC law is sufficient to enforce the State's citizenship eligibility requirement.
As to the right to vote, Judge Robinson weighed DPOC's benefits and burdens, distinguished the balance in Crawford v. Marion County, and ruled that DPOC violated the right to vote. "Instead, the DPOC law disproportionately impacts duly qualified registration applicants, while only nominally preventing noncitizen voter registration."
Finally, Judge Robinson found that Kobach engaged in a repeated "pattern and practice . . . of flaunting disclosure and discovery rules that are designed to prevent prejudice and surprise at trial." "[G]iven the repeated instances involved, and the fact that Defendant resisted the Court's rulings by continuing to try to introduce such evidence after exclusion, the Court finds that further sanctions are appropriate . . . ." The court ordered Kobach to attend six additional CLE hours (over and above the state's regular requirements), pertaining to federal or Kansas civil rules of procedure or evidence.
Monday, June 18, 2018
In its opinion in Gill v. Whitford involving a challenge to Wisconsin's alleged partisan gerrymandering the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with a concurring opinion by Justice Kagan (joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor), found that the plaintiffs did not prove sufficient Article III standing to sustain the relief granted in the divided decision by the three judge court. Additionally, in a per curiam opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, involving a challenge to alleged political gerrymandering in Maryland, the Court declined to disturb the three judge court's decision not to grant to a preliminary injunction.
Chief Justice Roberts' opinion for the Court in Gill admits that
Over the past five decades this Court has been repeatedly asked to decide what judicially enforceable limits, if any, the Constitution sets on the gerrymandering of voters along partisan lines. Our previous attempts at an answer have left few clear landmarks for addressing the question.
The Chief Justice's Gill opinion does little, if anything, to remedy this lack of "landmarks" in the doctrine. However, the Chief Justice's opinion continues that the Court's "efforts to sort through those considerations have generated conflicting views both of how to conceive of the injury arising from partisan gerrymandering and of the appropriate role for the Federal Judiciary in remedying that injury" and it is this set of "conflicting views" that the Chief Justice's opinion sets out to resolve. The resolution seems simple: to the extent that plaintiffs' "alleged harm is the dilution of their votes" in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, "that injury is district specific." In sum, the injury must be an individual one that arises from an individual's vote being diluted by the voter's placement in a "cracked" or "packed" district. The Chief Justice's opinion concludes that while the individual plaintiffs had "pleaded a particularized burden along such lines," they failed to prove those facts at trial.
Yet this simplicity is less straightforward when combined with Justice Kagan's concurring opinion, which correctly notes that in addition to the Equal Protection Clause claim of vote dilution, "at some points in this litigation, the plaintiffs complained of a different injury — an infringement of their First Amendment right of association." [Indeed, the opinion for the three judge court seems to combine the equal protection and First Amendment claims.] On the First Amendment claim, Kagan writes:
when the harm alleged is not district specific, the proof needed for standing should not be district specific either. And the associational injury flowing from a statewide partisan gerrymander, whether alleged by a party member or the party itself, has nothing to do with the packing or cracking of any single district’s lines. The complaint in such a case is instead that the gerrymander has burdened the ability of like-minded people across the State to affiliate in a political party and carry out that organization’s activities and objects. Because a plaintiff can have that complaint without living in a packed or cracked district, she need not show what the Court demands today for a vote dilution claim. Or said otherwise: Because on this alternative theory, the valued association and the injury to it are statewide, so too is the relevant standing requirement.
Moreover, even on the equal protection vote dilution claim, Kagan's opinion instructs that the Court's determination of remand rather than dismissal means that
the plaintiffs—both the four who initially made those assertions and any others (current or newly joined)—now can introduce evidence that their individual districts were packed or cracked. And if the plaintiffs’ more general charges have a basis in fact, that evidence may well be at hand. Recall that the plaintiffs here alleged—and the District Court found —that a unified Republican government set out to ensure that Republicans would control as many State Assembly seats as possible over a decade (five consecutive election cycles). To that end, the government allegedly packed and cracked Democrats throughout the State, not just in a particular district (see, e.g., Benisek v. Lamone) or region. Assuming that is true, the plaintiffs should have a mass of packing and cracking proof, which they can now also present in district-by-district form to support their standing. In other words, a plaintiff residing in each affected district can show, through an alternative map or other evidence, that packing or cracking indeed occurred there.
[emphasis added]. The Court remanded and declined to "direct dismissal" given that this "is not the usual case" because the it "concerns an unsettled kind of claim," the "contours and justiciability of which are unresolved." Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Gorsuch, wrote separately to disagree with the remand, arguing there is "nothing unusual" about the case and that the matter should be dismissed.
In the five page per curiam opinion in Benisek v. Lamone, the Court declined to disturb the three judge court's denial of a motion for preliminary injunction. Seemingly without irony, the Court noted that one rationale for the three judge court's denial of a preliminary injunction was its concern about assessing the merits of the partisan gerrymandering claim and its prediction it would be "better equipped to make that legal determination and to chart a wise course" after the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Gill. However, the per curiam opinion of the Court also reasoned that even if the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits, the other factors in a preliminary injunction decision including the balance of equities and the public interest "tilted against" the issuance of a preliminary injunction.
In sum, the decisions in Gill and Benisek leave the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering as unsettled as before.
[image: "the gerrymander" via]
June 18, 2018 in Association, Elections and Voting, Equal Protection, First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, Opinion Analysis, Reconstruction Era Amendments, Standing, Supreme Court (US) | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, June 16, 2018
Maine became the first state this week to use ranked-choice-voting in a state-wide election. In addition to electing candidates in the primaries, Maine voters also voted in favor of a referendum favoring ranked-choice.
It may seem odd that voters both used ranked-choice and voted for it in the same election. (Wouldn't a vote for it usually precede a vote using it?) Here's why: The referendum was designed to undo legislation that postponed and repealed ranked-choice voting unless a constitutional amendment (allowing it) passed before December 1, 2021. The legislation, in turn, was enacted by legislative opponents of ranked-choice, who argued, among other things, that ranked-choice violated the state constitution.
That argument didn't come out of the blue. The state supreme court issued a non-binding advisory opinion earlier this year concluding that ranked-choice did, indeed, violate the state constitution. In short, the court said ranked-choice, with its multiple-rounds that might result in a candidate with a first-round plurality from losing the election (when there are three or more candidates), violated the state constitutional provisions that say that the winning candidate in an election is the person who receives a "plurality" of the vote. The court explained:
The Act, in contrast, provides for the tabulation of votes in rounds. Thus, the Act prevents the recognition of the winning candidate when the first plurality is identified. According to the terms of the Constitution, a candidate who receives a plurality of the votes would be declared the winner in that election. The Act, in contrast, would not declare the plurality candidate the winner of the election, but would require continued tabulation until a majority is achieved or all votes are exhausted. Accordingly, the Act is not simply another method of carrying out the Constitution's requirement of a plurality. In essence, the Act is inapplicable if there are only two candidates, and it is in direct conflict with the Constitution if there are more than two candidates.
The discrepancy between the Act and the Constitution is easily illustrated by the simplest of scenarios. If, after one round of counting, a candidate obtained a plurality of the votes but not a majority, that candidate would be declared the winner according to the Maine Constitution as it currently exists. According to the Act, however, that same candidate would not then be declared the winner.
Instead, the candidate, though already having obtained a plurality of the votes, would be subject to additional rounds of counting in which second, third, and fourth choices are accounted for and the lowest vote-garnering candidates are successively eliminated. Once those additional rounds are completed, a different candidate may be declared the winner--not because that second candidate obtained a plurality of the votes (which the first candidate had already obtained), but because that candidate obtained a majority of the votes after eliminating the other candidates by taking into account the second, third, and fourth place preferences, or because the ballots have been exhausted. In this way, the Act prevents the candidate obtaining a "plurality" from being named the winner unless and until multiple rounds of vote-counting have occurred.
(NB: The ruling is as interesting, or more, for its analysis of the court's power to issue advisory opinions in the context of Maine constitutional separation of powers.)
The ruling is merely advisory, however, and not binding. So there's no definitive say-so as to the constitutionality of ranked-choice voting in the state. Because the referendum removes the legislative barrier to ranked-choice in the absence of a constitutional amendment by December 2021, unless there's an actual and adversarial court case challenging ranked choice (and winning), we'll see it again in the next election, constitutional amendment or not.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
In its opinion in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the Court held that a provision of a Minnesota law regulating voters' political attire violates the First Amendment. Recall from our preview that Minn. Stat. §211B.11, entitled "Soliciting near polling places," includes among its petty misdemeanor violations a prohibition of political attire: "A political badge, political button, or other political insignia may not be worn at or about the polling place on primary or election day."
The Court's majority opinion, by Chief Justice Roberts, finds that the "polling place" on election day constitutes a nonpublic forum under the First Amendment; it is "government- controlled property set aside for the sole purpose of voting" and is a "special enclave, subject to greater restriction." The question as phrased by the Court was therefore whether "Minnesota’s ban on political apparel is 'reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum': voting." As in the oral argument, the Court considered the relevance of Burson v. Freeman (1992), in which the Court upheld a Tennessee statute which prohibited the solicitation of votes and the display or distribution of campaign materials within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place.
Analogizing to Burson, the Court upheld Minnesota's objective in prohibiting voters from wearing particular kinds of expressive apparel or accessories while inside the polling place.
[W]e see no basis for rejecting Minnesota’s determination that some forms of advocacy should be excluded from the polling place, to set it aside as “an island of calm in which voters can peacefully contemplate their choices.” Brief for Respondents 43. Casting a vote is a weighty civic act, akin to a jury’s return of a verdict, or a representative’s vote on a piece of legislation. It is a time for choosing, not campaigning. The State may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect that distinction.
However, the Court found that the Minnesota statute failed to satisfy the reasonable standard in the means chosen to achieve its goal: "the unmoored use of the term 'political' in the Minnesota law, combined with haphazard interpretations the State has provided in official guidance and representations to this Court, cause Minnesota’s restriction to fail even this forgiving test." The Court found "political" far too broad (citing dictionary definitions) and likewise found that "issue oriented material" was also too broad (" A rule whose fair enforcement requires an election judge to maintain a mental index of the platforms and positions of every candidate and party on the ballot is not reason- able. Candidates for statewide and federal office and major political parties can be expected to take positions on a wide array of subjects of local and national import.")
However, the Court gestured toward acceptable means chosen:
That is not to say that Minnesota has set upon an impossible task. Other States have laws proscribing displays (including apparel) in more lucid terms. See, e.g., Cal. Elec. Code Ann. §319.5 (West Cum. Supp. 2018) (prohibiting “the visible display . . . of information that advocates for or against any candidate or measure,” including the “display of a candidate’s name, likeness, or logo,” the “display of a ballot measure’s number, title, subject, or logo,” and “[b]uttons, hats,” or “shirts” containing such information); Tex. Elec. Code Ann. §61.010(a) (West 2010) (prohibiting the wearing of “a badge, insignia, emblem, or other similar communicative device relating to a candidate, measure, or political party appearing on the ballot, or to the conduct of the election”). We do not suggest that such provisions set the outer limit of what a State may proscribe, and do not pass on the constitutionality of laws that are not before us. But we do hold that if a State wishes to set its polling places apart as areas free of partisan discord, it must employ a more discernible approach.
The appendix lists thirty-four states prohibiting accessories or apparel in the polling place.
Dissenting, Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Breyer, would have certified the issue of the interpretation of the statute to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Court, in footnote 7, explained its decision not to certify, including that the request came "late in the day," but Sotomayor argued that "certification is not an argument subject to forfeiture by the parties" and is instead a matter of comity. Moreover, she contended that having an interpretation of the statute, including the term "political" (which she noted the Court had "little difficulty discerning its meaning in the context of [other] statutes subject to First Amendment challenges, citing cases), would "obviate the hypothetical line-drawing problems that form the basis of the Court’s decision today."
Thus, the import of Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky is that states can prohibit certain expressive apparel and accessories at the polling place on election day, but the courts must find the statutory definitions sufficiently defined as to be "reasonable."
Sunday, June 10, 2018
Maine will become the first state to use ranked-choice voting in a state-wide election in its Tuesday primaries. Maine's Secretary of State has a resource page here, including sample ballots, FAQs, and even an entertaining video explaining how it'll work. Check it out!
The move to ranked-choice voting in the state isn't uncontroversial, as reported earlier this spring in The Atlantic. But results from other jurisdictions within the U.S., and from other countries (that have much richer experiences using ranked-choice or some form of instant-run-off voting), are promising.