Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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Madigan was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1970 and re-elected to 25 additional two-year terms. He became Speaker of the House in 1983 and the state’s Democratic Party Chairman in 1998. In 2021 he withdrew from the race to be reelected as Speaker and resigned his seat in the House and his role as Chairman. Four candidates were on the ballot for the 2016 Democratic primary. Madigan won with 65% of the votes; Gonzales received 27%, Rodriguez 6%, and Barboza 2%. Gonzales sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Rodriguez and Barboza were stooges put on the ballot by Madigan’s allies to divide the Hispanic vote, violating the Equal Protection Clause.The district judge noted that Gonzales had made his suspicions public early in the race and that an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times agreed with Gonzales. Concluding that the voters were not deceived, the court granted summary judgment against Gonzales. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district judge did not penalize Gonzales’s campaign speech. Speech, including in depositions and interrogatories, often affects litigation's outcome; a judge who takes account of speech that proves or refutes a claim does not violate the First Amendment. Gonzales told the voters that he thought Madigan had played a dirty trick. The electorate sided with Madigan. The Constitution does not authorize the judiciary to upset that outcome or to penalize a politician for employing a shady strategy that voters tolerate. View "Gonzales v. Madigan" on Justia Law

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A Maryland law requiring newspapers, among other platforms, to publish on their websites, as well as retain for state inspection, certain information about the political ads they decide to carry, violates the First amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunctive relief awarded by the district court and explained that, while Maryland's law tries to serve important aims, the state has gone about this task in too circuitous and burdensome a manner to satisfy constitutional scrutiny. The court agreed with the district court that the law is a content-based law that targets political speech and compels newspapers, among other platforms, to carry certain messages on their websites. The court declined to decide whether strict or exacting scrutiny should apply to a disclosure law like the one at issue, and held that the law failed under the more forgiving exact scrutiny standard. View "The Washington Post v. McManus" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs submitted proposed ballot initiatives to the Portage County Board of Elections that would effectively decriminalize marijuana possession in Garrettsville and Windham, Ohio. The Board declined to certify the proposed initiatives, concluding that the initiatives fell outside the scope of the municipalities’ legislative authority. Plaintiffs sued, asserting that the statutes governing Ohio’s municipal ballot-initiative process impose a prior restraint on their political speech, violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court permanently enjoined the Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State, from enforcing the statutes in any manner that failed to provide for adequate judicial review. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction. A person or party may express beliefs or ideas through a ballot, but ballots serve primarily to elect candidates, not as forums for political expression. Heightened procedural requirements imposed on systems of prior restraint are inappropriate in the context of ballot-initiative preclearance regulations. The court applied the “Anderson-Burdick” framework and weighted the character and magnitude of the burden the state’s rule against the interests the state contends justify that burden and considered the extent to which the state’s concerns make the burden necessary. The state affords aggrieved ballot-initiative proponents adequate procedural rights through the availability of mandamus relief in the state courts. View "Schmitt v. LaRose" on Justia Law

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In October 2014, Kentucky Educational Television (KET) hosted a debate between the candidates for one of Kentucky’s seats in the U.S. Senate. KET limited the debate to candidates who qualified for the ballot, had collected at least $100,000 in campaign contributions, and had an independent poll indicating that at least one in 10 Kentuckians planned to vote for them. The criteria excluded Patterson, the Libertarian Party candidate. The district court rejected a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 by Patterson and the Party, noting that, with relatively few limits, KET could invite to its debates whomever it wanted. KET was not required to create—let alone publish—any criteria at all. KET restricted who could appear in a televised debate, not on the ballot. The debate criteria had nothing to do with a candidate’s views; rather, they measured whether voters had shown an objective interest in hearing the candidate. View "Libertarian National Committee, Inc. v. Holiday" on Justia Law

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During a campaign rally at Louisville’s Kentucky International Convention Center, then-candidate Trump spoke for 35 minutes. Plaintiffs attended the rally with the intention of peacefully protesting. Protesters’ actions during Trump’s video-recorded address precipitated directions from Trump on five different occasions to “get ’em out of here.” Members of the audience assaulted, pushed and shoved plaintiffs. Plaintiff Brousseau was punched in the stomach. Defendants Heimbach and Bamberger participated in the assaults. Plaintiffs sued Trump, the campaign, Heimbach, Bamberger, and an unknown woman who punched Brousseau, for battery, assault, incitement to riot, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness. The district court dismissed claims against the Trump defendants alleging they were vicariously liable for the actions of Heimbach, Bamberger and the unknown woman, and dismissed a negligent-speech theory as “incompatible with the First Amendment” but refused to dismiss the incitement-to-riot claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit found that the claim should be dismissed. Plaintiffs have not stated a valid claim under Kentucky law, given the elements of “incitement to riot.” Trump’s speech enjoys First Amendment protection because he did not specifically advocate imminent lawless action. Trump’s “get ’em out of here” statement, closely followed by, “Don’t hurt ’em,” cannot be interpreted as advocating a riot or the use of any violence. View "Nwanguma v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law prohibits wearing a “political badge, political button, or other political insignia” inside a polling place on Election Day, Minn. Stat. 211B.11(1), including clothing and accessories with political insignia. Election judges are authorized to decide whether a particular item is banned. Days before the 2010 election, plaintiffs challenged the ban. In response, the state distributed guidance with specific examples of prohibited apparel: items displaying the name of a political party or the name of a candidate, items supporting or opposing a ballot question, “[i]ssue oriented material designed to influence or impact voting,” and “[m]aterial promoting a group with recognizable political views.” Cilek allegedly was turned away from the polls for wearing a “Please I.D. Me” button, a “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirt, and a Tea Party Patriots logo. The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit’s rejection of the constitutional challenges. Minnesota’s political apparel ban violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Because the ban applies only in a “nonpublic forum,” its content-based restrictions would be constitutional if “reasonable and not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view,” The statute makes no distinction based on the speaker’s political persuasion and serves a permissible objective: to set aside polling places as “an island of calm.” The state may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect the distinction between voting and campaigning. However, the “unmoored use of the term “political” in the Minnesota law, combined with haphazard interpretations" render the law unconstitutional for lack of narrow tailoring to serve that objective. Its indeterminate prohibitions present “[t]he opportunity for abuse, especially where [it] has received a virtually open-ended interpretation.” An election judge’s own politics may shape his views on what is “political.” View "Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky" on Justia Law

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Under Missouri campaign finance law, chapter 130, a “campaign committee” is formed to receive contributions or make expenditures solely to support or oppose particular ballot measures, "such committee shall be formed no later than thirty days prior to the election for which the committee receives contributions or makes expenditures." Thirteen days before the November 2014 general election, a group formed MFA as a campaign committee, to accept contributions and make expenditures in support of Proposition 10. MFA sued to enjoin enforcement of the formation deadline, citing the First Amendment. The district court granted MFA a temporary restraining order. MFA received contributions and made expenditures before the election. After the election, MFA terminated as a campaign committee. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of MFA. While a formation deadline by itself might not expressly limit speech, the deadline here is more than a disclosure requirement because it prohibits (or significantly burdens) formation of a campaign committee, a requisite for legally engaging in speech, even if the individual or group is willing to comply with organizational and disclosure requirements. Even if the state’s interest in preventing circumvention of chapter 130’s disclosure regime is compelling, the formation deadline is unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored, given its burden on speech and its modest effect on preventing circumvention of the disclosure regime. View "Missourians for Fiscal Accountability v. Klahr" on Justia Law

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In 2010 the IRS began to pay unusual attention to applications for exemption from federal taxes under Internal Revenue Code 501(c) coming from groups with certain political affiliations. It used "inappropriate criteria" to identify organizations with "Tea Party’" in their names, expanded the criteria to include "Patriots and 9/12," and gave heightened scrutiny to organizations concerned with “government spending, government debt or taxes,” “lobbying to ‘make America a better place to live[,]’” or “criticiz[ing] how the country is being run[.]” The IRS used a “‘Be On the Lookout’ listing” for more than 18 months. Applicants flagged by the criteria were sent to a “team of specialists,” where they experienced significant delays and requests for unnecessary information. The IRS demanded that many groups provide names of donors; a list of issues important to the organization and its position regarding such issues; and political affiliations. After the release of the Inspector General’s report, the plaintiffs sued, citing the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a, the First and Fifth Amendments, and the Internal Revenue Code’s prohibition on the unauthorized inspection of confidential “return information,” 26 U.S.C. 6103(a), 7431. Plaintiffs sought discovery of basic information relevant to class certification. The district court ordered production of “Lookout” lists. A year later, the IRS had not complied, but sought a writ of mandamus. The Sixth Circuit denied that petition and ordered the IRS to comply. View "United States v. NorCal Tea Party Patriots" on Justia Law

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Ohio prohibited persons from disseminating false information about a political candidate in campaign materials during the campaign season “knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not, if the statement is designed to promote the election, nomination, or defeat of the candidate.” Ohio Rev. Code 3517.21(B)(10), specifically prohibiting false statements about a candidate’s voting record. The statute established a multi-step complaint process involving the Elections Commission, culminating in referral to a prosecutor. If convicted in subsequent state court proceedings, violators could be sentenced to prison or fined. In 2010, then-Congressman Driehaus filed a complaint alleging that SBA issued a press release accusing him of voting for “taxpayer-funded abortion” by voting for the Affordable Care Act. The Commission issued a probable cause finding. SBA sued Driehaus and state officials. That case was consolidated with a similar case, adding the Commission as a defendant. The U.S. Supreme Court found the case ripe as a facial challenge, despite the dismissal of Commission proceedings. On remand, the district court granted SBA summary judgment, holding that Ohio’s political false statement laws were content-based restrictions that fail strict scrutiny review. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, characterizing the laws as content-based restrictions that burden core protected political speech, not narrowly tailored to achieve state interests in promoting fair elections. View "Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus" on Justia Law

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Initiative Petition No. 403 sought to amend the Oklahoma Constitution by adding a new Article 13-C. The proposed article would create the Oklahoma Education Improvement Fund, designed to provide for the improvement of public education in Oklahoma through an additional one-cent sales and use tax. Funds generated by the one-cent tax would be distributed to public school districts, higher education institutions, career and technology centers, and early childhood education providers for certain educational purposes outlined in the proposed article. Additionally, a percentage of the funds would be used to provide a $5,000.00 pay raise to all public school teachers. Opponents challenged the initiative, arguing it violated the one general subject rule of Art. 24, sec. 1 of the Oklahoma Constitution. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that Initiative Petition No. 403 did not violate the one general subject rule and was legally sufficient for submission to the people of Oklahoma. View "IN RE INITIATIVE PETITION NO. 403 STATE QUESTION NO. 779" on Justia Law