Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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New Jersey permits candidates running in primary elections to include beside their name a slogan of up to six words to help distinguish them from others on the ballot but requires that candidates obtain consent from individuals or incorporated associations before naming them in their slogans. Candidates challenged this requirement after their desired slogans were rejected for failure to obtain consent. They argued that ballot slogans are, in effect, part of the campaign and that the consent requirement should be subject to traditional First Amendment scrutiny.The district court disagreed, holding that, though the ballot slogans had an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test. The Third Circuit affirmed. The line separating core political speech from the mechanics of the electoral process “has proven difficult to ascertain.“ The court surveyed the election laws to which the Supreme Court and appellate courts have applied the Anderson-Burdick test, as opposed to a traditional First Amendment analysis, and derived criteria to help distinguish which test is applicable. New Jersey’s consent requirement is subject to Anderson-Burdick’s balancing test; because New Jersey’s interests in ensuring election integrity and preventing voter confusion outweigh the minimal burden imposed on candidates’ speech, the requirement passes that test. View "Mazo v. New Jersey Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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In 2019, Tennessee imposed new requirements for conducting voter-registration activities. The law required individuals to register with the state; complete state-administered “training”; file a “sworn statement” agreeing to obey Tennessee’s voter-registration laws; and return “completed” voter-registration forms within 10 days. Plaintiffs argued that the law significantly burdened their rights of speech and association, in violation of the First Amendment, and was unconstitutionally vague. The court stated that the defendants had offered “little, if any, evidence” in support of the Act’s requirements, “despite having had an opportunity” and held that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits, further noting “the vagueness about the scope and nature" of the Act. The court “ordered” the defendants “not to take any steps to implement” or otherwise enforce the challenged provisions. The defendants did not appeal. Seven months later, the state repealed the provisions.The district court approved a stipulation to dismiss the case without prejudice. Plaintiffs were awarded attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988, as the “prevailing party.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A preliminary injunction that, as a practical matter, concludes the litigation in the plaintiffs’ favor and that is not challenged on appeal, is, in this case, enduring enough to support prevailing-party status under section 1988. View "Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied a writ of mandamus compelling Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to allow Relator to appoint election observers to inspect the counting of votes and compelling LaRose to provide election observers with copies of all software, hardware, and source codes installed on any automatic vote-tabulating machine, holding that Relator was not entitled to the writ.Relator, an independent candidate for Ohio Secretary of State on the November 8, 2022 general-election ballot, brought this expedited election case (1) asserting that Ohio Rev. Code 3505.21, which governs the appointment of election observers, violates constitutional equal protection guarantees because it restricts certified independent candidates' ability to appoint election observers; and (2) asking that tabulating-machine software be "open or unlocked" so that observers "may inspect [the machines] to the source code level[.]" The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding that there was no basis for a writ of mandamus to issue. View "State ex rel. Maras v. LaRose" on Justia Law

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In 2020 Alaska voters approved, by a slim margin, a ballot initiative that made sweeping changes to Alaska’s system of elections. The changes included replacing the system of political party primary elections with a nonpartisan primary election and adopting ranked-choice voting for the general election. A coalition of politically active voters and a political party filed suit, arguing that these changes violated the Alaska Constitution. The superior court ruled otherwise. The Alaska Supreme Court considered the appeal on an expedited basis and affirmed the superior court’s judgment in a brief order. The Court concluded the challengers did not carry their burden to show that the Alaska Constitution prohibited the election system Alaska voters have chosen. The Court published its opinion to explain its reasoning. View "Kohlhaas, et al. v.Alaska, Division of Elections, et al." on Justia Law

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NJBA, a non-profit trade association representing 88 New Jersey banks, sought to make independent expenditures and contributions to political parties and campaigns for state and local offices. NJBA has not made these payments because of N.J. Stats. 19:34-45, which provides that, “[n]o corporation carrying on the business of a bank . . . shall pay or contribute money or thing of value in order to aid or promote the nomination or election of any person, or in order to aid or promote the interests, success or defeat of any political party.” NJBA brought a facial challenge on its own behalf and on behalf of third-party banks.The district court held that section 19:34-45’s prohibition on independent expenditures violates the First Amendment but that the ban on political contributions by certain corporations does not violate the First Amendment and passes intermediate scrutiny. The Third Circuit reversed, declining to address the First Amendment issues. The statute does not apply to trade associations of banks. NJBA is not “carrying on the business of a bank.” With respect to the facial challenge, NJBA does not satisfy the narrow exception to the general rule against third-party standing. View "New Jersey Bankers Association v. Attorney General New Jersey" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court ruling in favor of Plaintiffs on cross-motions for summary judgment and enjoining the Montana Secretary of State from placing House Bill (HB) 325 on Montana's 2022 general election ballot, holding that the referendum proposal violates the Montana Constitution.In approved, HB 325 will establish seven Supreme Court districts in Montana and requires that Supreme Court justices be elected district by district, rather than statewide. Plaintiffs brought this challenge to the constitutionality of the measure. The district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in determining that the question of the constitutionality of the referendum proposed by HB 325 is ripe for judicial resolution; and (2) the district court did not err in enjoining the Secretary from placing HB 325 on the ballot in the 2022 general election. View "McDonald v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court ruling in favor of Plaintiffs on cross-motions for summary judgment and enjoining the Montana Secretary of State from placing House Bill (HB) 325 on Montana's 2022 general election ballot, holding that the referendum proposal violates the Montana Constitution.If approved, HB 325 will establish seven Supreme Court districts in Montana and requires that Supreme Court justices be elected district by district, rather than statewide. Plaintiffs brought this challenge to the constitutionality of the measure. The district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court did not err in determining that the question of the constitutionality of the referendum proposed by HB 325 is ripe for judicial resolution; and (2) the district court did not err in enjoining the Secretary from placing HB 325 on the ballot in the 2022 general election. View "McDonald v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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In this lawsuit challenging both the residency and voter-registration requirements under Maine law the First Circuit affirmed the order issuing a preliminary injunction preventing the residency requirement and voter-registration requirement from being enforced, holding that there was no error.In 2020, Plaintiffs brought this action against the Secretary of State of Maine and the Deputy Secretary of State of Maine for the Bureau of Corporations in their official capacities, alleging that, by restricting who may be a circulator, Maine's residency and voter-registration requirements violate the First Amendment, as incorporated against the states by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court granted Plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs established that they were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims. View "We The People PAC v. Bellows" on Justia Law

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Texas applicants may transmit a voter registration form to the county registrar via fax, then deliver or mail a hardcopy of the application within four days, Elec.Code 13.143(d-2). Vote.org, a non-profit, non-membership organization, launched a web application, with which a user would supply the required information and an electronic image of her signature. The application would assemble a completed voter registration application, then transmit it to a third-party vendor, who would transmit the form via fax to the county registrar; another vendor would mail a hardcopy to the registrar. A 2018 pilot program in four counties “was an unmitigated disaster. Because applications submitted using the web application lacked an original, “wet” signature, the Secretary of State advised that those applications were incomplete. In 2021, House Bill 3107 clarified that for “a registration application submitted by [fax] to be effective, a copy of the original registration application containing the voter’s original signature must be submitted by personal delivery or mail” within four days.The district court concluded that the wet-signature requirement violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 52 U.S.C. 10101(a)(2)(B), because an original signature is “not material” to an individual’s qualification to vote and granted a permanent injunction. The Fifth Circuit granted a stay pending appeal, concluding that Vote.org lacks statutory standing and is unlikely to prevail on the merits. The wet-signature rule imposes a very slight burden on the right to vote and helps deter voter registration fraud. View "Vote.Org v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the lower court finding the legislative reapportionment in the map colloquially known as "Ad Astra 2" constitutionally deficient as a partisan and racial gerrymander, holding that Plaintiffs did not prevail on any of their claims that Ad Astra 2 violates the Kansas Constitution.The district court held that Sub. SB 355 violates the Kansas Constitution as both a partisan and a racial gerrymander. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) this Court had jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs' claims; (2) claims of excessive partisan gerrymandering are nonjusticiable in Kansas; and (3) Plaintiffs did not establish the elements of their race-based claims. View "Rivera v. Schwab" on Justia Law