Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure
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A Texas law, Senate Bill 1 (S.B. 1), related to voter registration and election integrity, was challenged by a group of plaintiffs (collectively referred to as LUPE) on the grounds that it chilled voter registration and was enacted with intent to discriminate against racial minorities. During the discovery phase of the lawsuit, LUPE sought documents and communications from the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP), which had been sent to or exchanged with the Texas Legislature and various members of the Texas executive branch regarding S.B. 1. The state defendants and non-party appellants (legislators) argued that some of these materials were protected by legislative privilege. The district court ruled that the legislative privilege did not apply.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the legislative privilege was properly invoked and covered communications between the legislators and Alan Vera, the chair of the HCRP Ballot Security Committee, who had been involved in the legislative process relating to S.B. 1. The court further held that the legislative privilege did not yield under the circumstances of the case, as it did not meet the criteria for being an "extraordinary civil case" in which the privilege must yield. Therefore, the documents and communications sought by LUPE were protected by legislative privilege and not subject to discovery. View "La Union del Pueblo v. Bettencourt" on Justia Law

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In an appeal from the Superior Court, Washington Unit, Civil Division, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss a case brought by H. Brooke Paige concerning the validity of the 2022 general election. Paige, a legal voter, contended that Act 60, which mandated mailing ballots and a postage-paid return envelope to all active voters due to the Covid-19 pandemic, invalidated all elections and public questions on the 2022 ballot. He argued that Act 60 contravened the Vermont Constitution's requirement for voters to cast ballots in person on election day. He also alleged that mail-in ballots were subject to fraudulent conduct, and separately, he claimed procedural deficiencies regarding the language of two public questions on the ballot. The lower court dismissed the case for lack of standing under § 2603, as Paige could not show that he had been personally injured by the alleged issues. In the appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court found that Paige failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, as his complaint did not allege that the result of any specific election was invalid due to material vote irregularities. The court noted that § 2603 allows voters to contest a particular election or public question, but it does not provide a means to challenge every election and question on a single ballot without distinguishing among them. Thus, the court affirmed the dismissal of Paige's complaint. View "Paige v. State of Vermont" on Justia Law

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The New York Court of Appeals held that the New York State Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) failed to fulfill its constitutional duties for redistricting maps after the 2020 census. The court affirmed a lower court decision ordering the IRC to reconvene and deliver a second set of lawful redistricting maps.In 2014, New York voters amended the state constitution to mandate that the IRC, not the courts or the legislature, draw legislative districts. However, the IRC failed to deliver the required maps, resulting in a court-ordered redistricting plan for the 2022 elections.The court clarified that such court-directed plans are limited to the "extent" that the court is "required" to do so, and are not meant to last longer than necessary to remedy a violation of law. Therefore, the existing court-drawn districts are limited to the 2022 election.The court dismissed arguments that it was too late to compel the IRC to act, explaining that the court-ordered maps were not required to last a decade and that the IRC's constitutional obligation could be enforced at any time, unless barred by laches. The court also rejected arguments that the lawsuit was a collateral attack on an earlier decision, which dealt with a different issue.The ruling orders the IRC to submit a second set of redistricting maps and implementing legislation to the legislature as soon as possible, but no later than February 28, 2024. View "Matter of Hoffmann v New York State Ind. Redistricting Commn." on Justia Law

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In this case, a group of New Hampshire voters challenged the constitutionality of the state's new boundaries for state senate and executive council districts. The plaintiffs claimed that the legislature violated the New Hampshire Constitution by drawing districts that unfairly benefitted one political party at the expense of another. They sought a declaration that the districts violated various parts of the state constitution and an injunction preventing the implementation of the new boundaries.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire held that the issue of partisan gerrymandering raised a non-justiciable political question because the New Hampshire Constitution committed the task of redistricting to the legislature and did not provide any legal standard for the courts to review such decisions. The court noted that the plaintiffs did not claim that the redistricting plans violated any mandatory requirements of the state constitution.The court also rejected the argument that the constitution's guarantees of free speech, equal protection, and association were violated by the alleged gerrymandering. The court found that these constitutional provisions did not provide clear and manageable standards for adjudicating claims of extreme partisan gerrymandering.The court affirmed the lower court's decision to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint, concluding that the challenge to the constitutionality of the districts based on claims of excessive political gerrymandering presented non-justiciable political questions. View "Brown v. Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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A group of plaintiffs, who are voters in Travis County, Texas, filed a lawsuit against county officials alleging violations in the conduct of the November 2020 general election. Specifically, they claimed that the defendants used an uncertified electronic voting system for the election, thereby violating several state and federal laws. They sought injunctive and declaratory relief to prohibit electronic voting in Travis County, require paper ballots, and unseal various records related to the 2020 general election. The defendants removed the case to federal court and moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing. The district court agreed and dismissed the case without prejudice. The decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.In its decision, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which requires a plaintiff to establish that they have suffered a concrete and particularized injury that is likely caused by the defendant and would likely be redressed by judicial relief. The plaintiffs alleged two injuries: their votes were invalidated and not counted, and their personal information was unlawfully disclosed. The court found that neither injury was sufficient for Article III standing.However, the Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court's dismissal of the case. Instead, it ruled that the proper course of action, when a federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction due to a lack of standing, is to remand the case to state court rather than dismissing it. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's order and remanded the case with instructions to send it back to state court. View "Lutostanski v. Brown" on Justia Law

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In this case brought before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, the plaintiffs were appealing the wording of a district court's declaratory judgment which held certain voter-registration provisions in the Houston City Charter unconstitutional. The plaintiffs were up against the City of Houston and two officials, Anna Russell and Pat J. Daniel, who were acting in their official capacities as City Secretaries.The court, however, found that there was no case or controversy as both parties had agreed from the start that the voter registration provisions were unconstitutional, and the city confirmed that it could not and would not enforce these provisions. The court cited precedent confirming that where there is no adversity between the parties on a constitutional question, there is no Article III case or controversy.Therefore, the court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the suit without prejudice, stating that such faux disputes do not belong in federal court. This dismissal allows for the possibility of the case being refiled in a competent jurisdiction in the future if necessary. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law

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In this case in the Supreme Court of the State of Alaska, a candidate who narrowly lost an election brought a case alleging that the Division of Elections had improperly allowed some voters to cast ballots without meeting constitutional and statutory residency requirements. The court upheld the election results in favor of the opposing candidate and dismissed the losing candidate's lawsuit. The winning candidate then moved for attorney’s fees and costs, asserting that certain claims made in the election contest were frivolous or made in bad faith. The court agreed and awarded the winning candidate full attorney’s fees and costs related to those claims. The losing candidate appealed, arguing that he was protected from an adverse attorney’s fees award as a constitutional claimant and that the court failed to follow proper procedure for imposing fees and costs as sanctions. The Alaska Supreme Court held that the unsuccessful candidate’s constitutional claims were not frivolous or made in bad faith and reversed the award of attorney’s fees and costs. However, the court ruled that the unsuccessful candidate is not exempt from sanctions for violating court rules after notice and an opportunity to be heard and remanded for further proceedings to determine whether sanctions could be awarded for violations of court rules. View "Pruitt v. State of Alaska, Division of Elections" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three, the court evaluated the legality of three members of the City of Mission Viejo City Council holding office after their elected terms had expired. The three council members, Ed Sachs, Wendy Bucknum, and Greg Raths, were elected in November 2018 for two-year terms that expired in December 2020. These two-year terms, rather than the traditional four-year terms, were part of a stipulated judgment to remedy violations of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA). The judgment intended to implement a system of cumulative voting for the city council, with all five seats up for election in November 2020. However, cumulative voting could not be implemented in time for the 2020 election, and the three councilmembers did not stand for reelection but continued to hold office after their terms expired.Michael Schlesinger, the plaintiff, brought a quo warranto lawsuit, with the permission of the California Attorney General, to have the three councilmembers removed from office. The councilmembers argued that they were entitled to hold office until the next cumulative voting election in 2022. However, the court ruled that the councilmembers were elected for two-year terms, and the stipulated judgment did not extend their terms contingent on the implementation of cumulative voting. As a result, the court affirmed the quo warranto judgment that Sachs, Bucknum, and Raths were holding office unlawfully after their terms expired in December 2020. View "P. ex rel. Schlesinger v. Sachs" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review was whether the Commonwealth Court abused its discretion in ordering Appellants, Eric Sloss and Sandor Zelekovitz, (“Objectors”) to pay the counsel fees of Appellee Michael Doyle, a candidate for the Republican nomination for Representative of Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District (“Candidate”) in the May 17, 2022 Primary Election. These fees were incurred during the litigation of Objectors’ petition to set aside Candidate’s nominating petitions for lack of a sufficient number of legally valid signatures from Republican electors. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Commonwealth Court abused its discretion in ordering Objectors to pay such fees. The Court therefore reversed its order in that respect. View "In Re: Nom. Michael Doyle" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenge the Louisiana Legislature’s 2022 redistricting map for electing the state’s six members of the United States House of Representatives. The district court preliminarily enjoined use of that map for the 2022 congressional elections. The United States Supreme Court stayed that injunction, pending resolution of a case involving Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan. About a year later, the Supreme Court resolved the Alabama case.In review of the Louisiana Legislature's 2022 redistricting plan, the Fifth Circuit held that district court did not clearly err in its necessary fact-findings nor commit legal error in its conclusions that the Plaintiffs were likely to succeed in proving a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. However, the court found the injunction is no longer necessary. View "Robinson v. Ardoin" on Justia Law