Saturday, July 3, 2021

New Hampshire High Court Strikes State Voter Registration Proof-of-Residency Law

The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the state's proof-of-residency requirement for voting violated the state constitutional right to vote. The ruling strikes the requirement, SB3, on its face.

The ruling comes just one day after the Supreme Court upheld Arizona's out-of-precinct rule and ballot-collection ban against challenges under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The New Hampshire Court's approach stands in stark contrast to the Supreme Court's approach, in that the New Hampshire Court much more closely scrutinized the state interests behind the voting restrictions (like reducing voting fraud, e.g.)--and concludes that SB3 doesn't serve them. (The plaintiffs in the Arizona case alleged race discrimination in violation of Section 2, whereas the plaintiffs in the New Hampshire case alleged a denial of the right to vote in violation of the state constitution. Still, the difference in approaches is notable, even glaring.)

In this way, the ruling illustrates how state constitutional law could protect against some voting restrictions that the Voting Rights Act (in light of the Supreme Court's ruling) might not.

The case, New Hampshire Democratic Party v. Secretary of State, challenges the state's requirement that voters submit documentation proving their residence (if registering more than 30 days from an election) or select one of two complex and confusing verification options on the voter registration form (if registering less than 30 days from an election). The state adopted the requirements in July 2017; before that, voters simply had to sign an affidavit that they met the identity, citizenship, age, and domicile requirements to vote.

Plaintiffs sued to halt the 2017 requirement, arguing that they violated the state constitutional right to vote. That provision says,

All elections are to be free, and every inhabitant of the state of 18 years of age and upwards shall have an equal right to vote in any election. Every person shall be considered an inhabitant for the purposes of voting in the town, ward, or unincorporated place where he has his domicile.

In particular, the plaintiffs said that "[t]he procedural requirements, associated penalties, and incomprehensibility of SB3 severely and unreasonably burden[] the fundamental right to vote" and that "[t]here is no government interest . . . that justifies requiring New Hampshire voters to endure these burdens."

The court agreed with the plaintiffs. The court applied intermediate scrutiny (the state constitutional standard for voting restrictions that fall between "severe," on the one hand, and "reasonable" and "nondiscriminatory," on the other). It said that the trial court sufficiently found that the requirement unreasonably burdened the plaintiffs (because it's very confusing, and would lead to increased registration times and longer lines at the polls, among other problems), and that the requirements simply did not advance the state's interests in "safeguarding voter confidence, protecting public confidence in the integrity of the State's elections, . . . helping to prevent and protect against voter fraud," and "reducing the administrative cost of post-election investigations." In short, the court deferred to the trial court findings that the state's proof-of-residency requirement simply didn't advance these interests.

 

July 3, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis, State Constitutional Law | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Court Upholds Arizona Voting Restrictions, Limits Voting Rights Act

The Supreme Court ruled today that two Arizona voting restrictions--the out-of-precinct ban and the ballot-collection ban--did not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Along the way, the Court interpreted Section 2 in a way that'll likely make it harder, even much harder, for plaintiffs to successfully challenge the myriad new and proposed state voting restrictions.

The ruling means that Arizona's restrictions stay on the books, and that new and proposed voting restrictions are likely also to pass muster. Under the Court's approach, a plaintiff could, in theory, still succeed in a claim that a facially neutral voting law violates Section 2 because of its disparate impact by race. But it'll be a lot, lot harder. The ruling may make it harder to prove a discriminatory intent claim, too, given the the way the Court analyzed the question, and given the Court's rejection of the "cat's paw" approach in the lower court.

The case, Brnovich v. DNC, tested two Arizona voting restrictions, the out-of-precinct ban and the ballot-collection ban. Under the out-of-precinct ban, election officials discard any ballot cast by a voter on election day in the wrong precinct. Under the ballot-collection ban, it's a crime for any person (except a postal worker, an elections official, or a voter's caregiver, family member, or household member) to collect another person's early ballot.

Plaintiffs argued that the provisions had a disparate impact on the state's Native American, Latinx, and Black voters, and that the ballot-collection provision was enacted with discriminatory intent, all in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In a sharply divided, 6-3 ruling, along conventional ideological lines, he Court rejected the challenge.

Justice Alito wrote for the majority. He wrote that Section 2(a) bans voting practices that "result in a denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race or color," and that Section 2(b) says that this applies only where "the political processes" are not "equally open to participation by members of a class of citizens protected by subsection (a) in that its members have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice." He acknowledged that subsection (b) requires a "totality of the circumstances approach." Putting the statutory language together, he wrote that

the core of Section 2(b) is the requirement that voting be "equally open." The statute's reference to equal "opportunity" may stretch that concept to some degree to include consideration of a person's ability to use the means that are equally open. But equal openness remains the touchstone.

The Court then identified a nonexhaustive list of circumstances that go to "equal openness" and "equal opportunity." First, it said "the size of the burden imposed by a challenged voting rule is highly relevant." Next, "the degree to which a voting rule departs from what was standard practice when Section 2 was amended in 1982 is a relevant consideration." Third, "[t]he size of any disparities in a rule's impact on members of different racial or ethnic groups is also an important factor to consider." Fourth, "courts must consider the opportunities provided by a State's entire system of voting when assessing the burden imposed by a challenged provision." And finally, "the strength of the state interests served by a challenged voting rule is also an important factor that must be taken into account."

Considering these principles, the Court held that Arizona's restrictions didn't violate Section 2's "equal openness" and "equal opportunity" commands. The Court said that the rules don't pose an unusual burden on voting, and that Arizona acted to mitigate any burdens. The Court said that the plaintiffs failed to show a significant racially disparate outcome for the out-of-precinct policy, and no actual disparity for the ballot-collection ban. And the Court said that the state had valid justifications for the policies, and that the state didn't need to adopt the least restrictive means to achieve those justifications.

The Court went on to hold that the ballot-collection ban was not enacted with a discriminatory purpose in violation of Section 2. It said that any evidence of discriminatory purpose was outweighed by the later "serious legislative debate" that "led to the passage" of the policy. The Court held that the lower court's "cat's paw" theory (which a plaintiff can use in employment-discrimination cases to hold an employer liable for "the animus of a supervisor who was not charged with making the ultimate [adverse] employment decision") had no place in the Section 2 analysis.

Justice Gorsuch concurred, joined by Justice Thomas. He argued that it's not obvious that Section 2 provides an individual cause of action. But he declined to say more, because the parties hadn't raised the point.

Justice Kagan dissented, joined by Justices Breyer and Sotomayor. She started with a comprehensive history of voting rights, discrimination, and the Voting Rights Act, right up to the present day--"a perilous moment for the Nation's commitment to equal citizenship . . . when too many States and localities are restricting access to voting in ways that will predictably deprive members of minority groups of equal access to the ballot." She argued that Section 2's "essential import is plain:"

Courts are to strike down voting rules that contribute to a racial disparity in the opportunity to vote, taking all the relevant circumstances into account.

She argued that by this standard, both of Arizona's restrictions fail. "Considering the 'totality of circumstances,' both 'result in' members of some races having 'less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect a representative of their choice.'"

July 1, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News, Opinion Analysis | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Check it Out: The 100 Scholars' Letter on Threats to Democracy

One hundred political scientists issued a Statement of Concern this week, detailing "the threats to American democracy and the need for national voting and election administration standards." Here's a bit, referring to state efforts to restrict the vote:

In future elections, these laws politicizing the administration and certification of elections could enable some state legislatures or partisan election officials to do what they failed to do in 2020: reverse the outcome of a free and fair election. Further, these laws could entrench extended minority rule, violating the basic and longstanding democratic principle that parties that get the most votes should win elections.

Democracy rests on certain elemental institutional and normative conditions. Elections must be neutrally and fairly administered. They must be free of manipulation. Every citizen who is qualified must have an equal right to vote, unhindered by obstruction. And when they lose elections, political parties and their candidates and supporters must be willing to accept defeat and acknowledge the legitimacy of the outcome.

 

June 3, 2021 in Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Organizations Sue Over Georgia Election Law

The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter Fund, and Rise, Inc. sued Georgia officials last week to halt the state's new restrictive voting law, SB 202. The complaint is here.

The plaintiffs challenge the state's adoption of "unnecessary and burdensome new identification requirements for absentee voting"; restrictions on absentee drop boxes; ban on mobile polling places; prohibition on distributing unsolicited absentee ballot applications; prohibition on third-party ballot collection; authorization of third-party challenges to voter qualifications; invalidation of ballots cast before 5:00 p.m. in a precinct where a voter wasn't assigned; ban on giving food and drink to voters waiting in line; and compressed time period for voting in a runoff election.

The plaintiffs argue that the restrictions create an undue burden on the right to vote under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

March 29, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, News | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, January 1, 2021

Court Kicks Gohmert's Election Case Against Pence

Judge Jeremy D. Kernodle (E.D. Tx.) dismissed the lawsuit headed by Representative Louie Gohmert against Vice President Mike Pence to throw the 2020 presidential election.

The ruling in the frivolous case was not unexpected. 

The case arose when Gohmert and self-appointed Trump electors from Arizona sued VP Pence, arguing that the Electoral Count Act violates the Electors Clause and the Twelfth Amendment, and that Pence has authority to determine which slate of electors to accept when he presides over the congressional count of electoral votes on January 6. The, er, novel argument turns on the plaintiffs', um, creative reading of the Electors Clause, the Twelfth Amendment, and the Electoral Count Act.

Start with the Electors Clause. It says that "[e]ach State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . . ." 

Next, the Twelfth Amendment. It says that each state's electors meet in their respective states and vote for President and VP. The electors then transmit their votes to the President of the Senate, the VP. "The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted." The candidate winning the majority of electoral votes wins. But if no candidate gets a majority, the House selects the President, with each state delegation receiving one vote. 

Finally, the Electoral Count Act. It says that Congress must count the votes in a joint session on January 6, with the VP presiding. It says that the executive in each state shall certify the electors to the Archivist of the United States, who then transmits the certificates to Congress. It says that a state's determination of their electors is "conclusive" if the state resolved all disputes over the election pursuant to state law at least 6 days before the electors meet. (This is called the "safe harbor" date.) Under the Act, if at least one Member of the House of Representatives and one Senator objects to a state's elector votes, the House and Senate meet in separate sessions and vote on the objection--by members, not state delegations.

Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin all certified their electors to President-Elect Biden and VP-Elect Harris, pursuant to state law and the Electoral Count Act. The governors certified the electors to the Archivist. 

But then Trump electors in those states met and, without any legal authority, self-certified their votes to President Trump and VP Pence. 

The plaintiffs contend that the self-appointed Trump electors created a competing slate of electors in each of these states. (They did not. The "Trump electors" named themselves electors without any legal authority and contrary to state law in each state.) They argue that "provisions . . . of the Electoral Count Act are unconstitutional insofar as they establish procedures for determining which of two or more competing slates of Presidential Electors for a given State are to be counted in the Electoral College, or how objections to a proffered slate are adjudicated, that violate the Twelfth Amendment."

In particular, they argue that the states appointed Biden electors in violation of the Electors Clause, because the state governors and secretaries of state certified those electors, even though the Electors Clause specifies that this is a function for the legislature. (In fact, the legislatures in each of those states already determined the manner of appointing electors by enacting state law that awards electors to the majority winner of the popular vote in those states.) 

Moreover, they argue that the dispute-resolution procedure in the Electoral Count Act "limits or eliminates [the VP's] exclusive authority and sole discretion under the Twelfth Amendment to determine which slates of electors for a State, or neither, may be counted." (In fact, the Twelfth Amendment does not give this authority to the VP. The VP's role is ceremonial, simply to read and count the certified results from each state.)

Finally, they argue that the dispute-resolution procedure in the Electoral Count Act "replaces the Twelfth Amendment's dispute resolution procedure--under which the House of Representatives has sole authority to choose the President." (In fact, the Twelfth Amendment dispute resolution procedure only applies when no candidate won a majority of electoral votes. The Electoral Count Act procedure applies when a member of both Houses objects to a state's slate of electors. Those are different dispute resolution processes, to be sure, but for very different kinds of dispute.) 

The plaintiffs asked the court to hold that the VP has "exclusive authority and sole discretion in determining which electoral votes to count for a given State." 

But the court ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing. It said that Gohmert lacked standing, because he asserted only an institutional harm (to the House), and not a personal harm. "Congressman Gohmert's alleged injury is 'a type of institutional injury (the diminution of legislative power), which necessarily damages all Members of Congress.'" It said that the Trump "electors" lacked standing, because any alleged injury that they suffered was not created by VP Pence, the defendant. Moreover, it said that both Gohmert and the Trump "electors" failed to show that their requested relief (an order that VP Pence has exclusive discretion to determine which electoral votes to count) would redress their injuries, because VP Pence might not determine the electoral votes in their favor. 

The plaintiffs vowed to appeal. But don't expect this case to go anywhere . . . on standing, or on the merits.

January 1, 2021 in Cases and Case Materials, Congressional Authority, Courts and Judging, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News, Opinion Analysis, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Primer on Trump's Electors Clause Claims, Updated

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed Texas's suit against Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin alleging violations of the Constitution's Electors Clause. The ruling was based on Texas's lack of standing--that Texas didn't allege a sufficiently specific and personal harm, caused by the defendants' actions and redressable by the Court, to punch its ticket to the Supreme Court. Importantly, the ruling did not touch the merits, the Electors Clause question.

UPDATE below.

The ruling thus left open a possibility that President Trump or Trump voters (or somebody else with a stronger standing case than Texas) might file similar cases against the same states, also alleging violations of the Electors Clause. (Indeed, a federal court in Wisconsin on Saturday rejected just such a case; more on that below.) So I thought it might be worth a beat to examine this claim.

President Trump and supporters argue that Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin violated the Constitution's Electors Clause by using election rules that weren't specifically sanctioned by the state legislatures in those states. The Electors Clause, in Article II, Section 1, specifies how states appoint electors to the electoral college; it says, "Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors . . . ." President Trump and his supporters focus on the phrase "in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct," and argue that a state legislature--and only a state legislature--has authority to direct how the state appoints electors.

That claim has some support on the Supreme Court. In other election cases this fall, Justices Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch seemed to endorse it. For example, Justice Alito (joined by Justices Thomas and Gorsuch) wrote in Pennsylvania v. Boockvar that the "question has national importance, and there is a strong likelihood that the State Supreme Court decision [extending the deadline for mail-in votes] violates the Federal Constitution."

The provisions of the Federal Constitution conferring on state legislatures, not state courts, the authority to make rules governing federal elections would be meaningless if a state court could override the rules adopted by the legislature simply by claiming that a state constitutional provision gave the courts the authority to make whatever rules it thought appropriate for the conduct of a fair election.

UPDATE: Justice Alito's opinion in Boockvar was carefully limited to the situation where a state supreme court "override[s] the rules adopted by the legislature." His opinion doesn't extend to situations where a state supreme court merely interprets the rules of the legislature, or where another body acts pursuant to legislative delegation. Justice Alito's opinion, by its own terms, therefore doesn't endorse the strongest version of a legislature-only rule (say, invalidating a state court ruling that merely interprets state law), but instead only a weaker version, where a state court outright "override[s] the rules adopted by the legislature." Many thanks to Professor Bruce Ledewitz, Duquesne, for pointing this out.

(Similarly, in an earlier, unrelated case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Chief Justice Roberts argued in dissent that a similar constitutional provision, the Elections Clause (which gives "the Legislature" of each state the power to regulate "[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections") does not allow state voters to vest redistricting power in an independent commission. Chief Justice Roberts's position in that case doesn't necessarily mean that he'd also endorse a "legislature-only" reading of the Electors Clause. But it does suggest that he'd at least be open to it.)

Under that "legislature-only" reading of the Electors Clause, President Trump and his supporters argue that Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin violated the Clause, because executive agencies or courts in those states adopted voting rules that weren't specifically enacted by the legislatures in those states. For example, in Boockvar, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered that the state accept mail-in ballots up to three days after election day, even though state law set an election-day deadline. The court held that the extension was required to comply with the Free and Equal Elections Clause of the state constitution. In other states, executive officials or judges issued similar orders in order to accommodate voters in an age of Covid-19. President Trump and his supporters claimed that these accommodations violated the Electors Clause, because they weren't specifically authorized by the state legislatures.

On the other side, the states argue that the Electors Clause authorizes only state legislatures only to direct the "Manner" of appointing electors--and that the state legislatures did this when they specified under state law that each state's electors would go to the popular-vote winner in the state. The states say that the "Manner" of appointing electors only extends that far--to the specification how a state would appoint its electors (by popular vote, for example)--and not to every jot and tittle of state election administration. Read more broadly, they say that the Clause would allow anyone to successfully challenge in federal court any aspect of the way a state ran a presidential election, so long as it wasn't specifically adopted by the state's legislature--a clearly absurd result. 

Moreover, they say that a state "legislative" act isn't just an act of the "legislature," but rather an act of the state's lawmaking apparatus. This includes the governor's signature, the executive's enforcement, and the state courts' review. (That's what the majority said about the Elections Clause in Arizona State Legislature.)

Finally, even if the Electors Clause means that the legislature--and the legislature alone--can enact the election rules for presidential elections, the states say that they complied, at least with regard to executive enforcement of election law. That's because the legislature delegated authority to enforce the election law to executive agencies. 

A federal court in Wisconsin put these arguments to the test just yesterday, in Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission . . . and ruled flatly against the President. The court held that the Wisconsin legislature did direct the manner of appointing electors--by specifying that they'd be appointed according to the popular vote in the state. It held that the "Manner" of appointment didn't extend to particular voting rules and the administration of the election: "[The President's] argument confuses and conflates the 'Manner' of appointing presidential electors--popular election--with underlying rules of election administration." And it held that even if the "Manner" of appointing electors includes election administration, Wisconsin satisfied the Clause, because the state legislature delegated authority to the Wisconsin Elections Commission to make certain rules on the administration of an election.

Stepping back, this is why Trump opponents have argued that Texas's lawsuit, if successful, would have unduly encroached on state sovereignty: because it would've meant that federal courts would've second-guessed every aspect of a state's lawmaking and administration of an election (the legislature's act, the executive's enforcement, and the state courts' say-so as to how it must operate under the state constitution). The Trump position would allow federal courts a free license to invalidate any aspect of election administration that the state legislature did not specifically enact--no matter how much the legislative act violated state law or the state constitution. 

Still, if the question gets to the Supreme Court--a big "if," given all the other problems with these lawsuits--at least three justices seem ready to rule for a "legislature-only" interpretation of the Electors Clause. That position, if endorsed by five justices, could favor President Trump in one or more of these states, where executive officers or judges adopted election rules without specific authorization (as in Wisconsin) from the legislature.

December 13, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, News | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, December 12, 2020

SCOTUS Rebuffs Texas's Challenge to Battleground State Election Results

The Supreme Court on Friday dismissed Texas's challenge to election results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin for lack of standing. The brief order simply read,

The State of Texas's motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied for lack of standing under Article III of the Constitution. Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its elections. All other pending motions are dismissed as moot.

Texas argued that it asserted two harms sufficient to satisfy standing: (1) its citizens were harmed in their votes for president by other states' failures to comply with the Elections Clause; and (2) Texas itself was harmed in its role (as a state) in the Senate, where the vice president could break a tie.

The Court's ruling rejects those theories. It did not say anything about the Elections Clause, however. 

Justice Alito filed a statement, joined by Justice Thomas, reiterating their view that the Court lacked "discretion to deny the filing of a bill of complaint in a case that falls within our original jurisdiction."

The ruling ends this challenge. But Trump supporters have already indicated that they'll seek to file similar challenges on behalf of individual voters in these states.

The Court's full docket, with the parties' filings and the many amicus filings, is here.

December 12, 2020 in Cases and Case Materials, Elections and Voting, Federalism, Jurisdiction of Federal Courts, News, Opinion Analysis, Separation of Powers, Standing | Permalink | Comments (0)

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

1b53f3960f12cffc899587a6c5a1798c
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)