Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications 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

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DSF challenged the Delaware Elections Disclosure Act as facially unconstitutional and unconstitutional as-applied to its 2014 Voter Guide, planned for distribution over the internet within 60 days of Delaware’s general election and planned to cost more than $500. The 2013 Act requires “[a]ny person . . . who makes an expenditure for any third-party advertisement that causes the aggregate amount of expenditures for third-party advertisements made by such person to exceed $500 during an election period [to] file a third-party advertisement report with the Commissioner.,” 15 Del. C. 8031(a). A “third-party advertisement” is a communication by any person (other than a candidate committee or a political party) that: Refers to a clearly identified candidate, is publicly distributed within 30 days before a primary or 60 days before a general election to an audience that includes members of the electorate for the office sought by such candidate. The court granted a preliminary injunction, declaring the disclosure requirements unconstitutional. The Third Circuit reversed, finding the Act narrowly tailored and not impermissibly broad. A disclosure requirement is subject to “exacting scrutiny,” necessitating a “substantial relationship” between the state’s interest and the requirement. The Act marries one-time, event-driven disclosures to the “election period,” which is controlled by the relevant candidate’s term, providing the necessary “substantial relationship” between the requirement and Delaware’s informational interest View "Del. Strong Families v. Attorney Gen. Del." on Justia Law

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Florida voters elect judges. The Florida Supreme Court adopted Canon 7C(1) of its Code of Judicial Conduct, stating that judicial candidates “shall not personally solicit campaign funds . . . but may establish committees of responsible persons” to raise money for election campaigns. Yulee mailed and posted online a letter soliciting financial contributions to her campaign for judicial office. The Florida Bar disciplined her for violating a Bar Rule requiring candidates to comply with Canon 7C(1). The Florida Supreme Court upheld the sanction against a First Amendment challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed. Florida’s interest in preserving public confidence in the integrity of its judiciary is compelling.. Unlike the legislature or the executive, the judiciary “has no influence over either the sword or the purse,” so its authority largely depends on the public’s willingness to respect its decisions. Canon 7C(1) raises no fatal underinclusivity concerns. The solicitation ban aims squarely at the conduct most likely to undermine public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary: it is not riddled with exceptions. Allowing a candidate to use a committee and to write thank you notes reflect Florida’s effort to respect the First Amendment interests of candidates and contributors. Canon 7C(1) is not overinclusive It allows judicial candidates to discuss any issue with any person at any time; to write letters, give speeches, and put up billboards; to contact potential supporters in person, on the phone, or online; and to promote their campaigns through the media. Though they cannot ask for money, they can direct their campaign committees to do so. Florida has reasonably determined that personal appeals for money by a judicial candidate inherently create an appearance of impropriety. Canon 7C(1) must be narrowly tailored, not “perfectly tailored” to address that concern. View "Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar" on Justia Law

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Russell brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against the Kentucky Secretary of State, Attorney General, and other state and local officials, alleging that Kentucky Revised Statute 117.235(3), which creates a 300-foot no-political-speech buffer zone around polling locations on election day, violated Russell’s free-speech rights. Russell’s business property is 150 feet from a polling location, with a four-lane highway and guardrails between. Citing the statute, Sheriff’s deputies have removed political signs from his property on previous election days, and the statute’s language prohibits Russell from, on his own property, waving signs and offering campaign literature to passersby. The district court declared the statute unconstitutional, and permanently enjoined its enforcement. The Sixth Circuit granted a partial stay of that injunction, which was issued only days before the 2014 general election, and expedited an appeal. The court then affirmed, holding that it had jurisdiction over the case, that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar suit against any of the remaining defendants, and that the statute facially violates the First Amendment because Kentucky failed to carry its burden of showing why it required a no-political-speech zone vastly larger than the Supreme Court has previously upheld. View "Russell v. Lundergan-Grimes" on Justia Law

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In March 2013, Reeder received a letter from Phelon, the press secretary for Illinois Senate President Cullerton, informing Reeder that his request for Senate media credentials as a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) was denied because IPI was registered as an Illinois lobbying entity. Phelon explained that Senate rules forbid credentials for anyone associated with a lobbying entity. Reeder tried again in January 2014 to obtain media credentials from the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate, arguing that IPI was no longer registered as a lobbyist. The Senate took the position that IPI was still required to register as a lobbyist given its retention of a lobbying firm that employed the same staff and office space as IPI itself. It again denied Reeder’s application. The Illinois House responded in kind. Reeder and IPI sued Illinois House Speaker Madigan and Cullerton, and their press secretaries under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of the press, and his rights to due process and equal protection. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, concluding that the denial of credentials qualified as legislative activity and entitled the defendants to immunity. View "Reeder v. Madigan" on Justia Law

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In 2010, the House of Representatives passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), by a vote of 219 to 212, following significant debate over whether PPACA included taxpayer funding for abortion. Driehaus, a Representative from Ohio and an anti-abortion Democrat, was an outspoken advocate of the “no taxpayer funding for abortion in the PPACA” movement, insisting that he would not vote for PPACA without inclusion of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, expressly forbidding use of taxpayer funds “to pay for any abortion or to cover any part of the costs of any health plan that includes coverage of abortion” except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother. Driehaus voted for the PPACA without the Amendment. President Obama later issued Executive Order 13535: “to … ensure that [f]ederal funds are not used for abortion services … consistent with a longstanding [f]ederal statutory restriction … the Hyde Amendment.” Debate continues as to whether PPACA includes federal funding for abortion. SBA, an anti-abortion public-advocacy organization, publicly criticized Driehaus, among other congressmen, for his vote. Driehaus considered SBA’s statement untrue and filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission, alleging violation of Ohio Revised Code 3517.21(B) (Unfair Political Campaign Activities). OEC found probable cause of a violation. SBA sued, claiming that the statute was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech. Driehaus counterclaimed defamation. Staying the other claims, pending agency action, the district court granted summary judgment, holding that associating a political candidate with a mainstream political position, even if false, cannot constitute defamation. The Sixth Circuit Affirmed. View "Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus" on Justia Law

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Aspiring Ohio state court judges must run for office and must follow the Code of Judicial Conduct, promulgated by the Ohio Supreme Court. The Code limits candidates’ campaign-related speech to help maintain an “independent, fair, and impartial judiciary,” free of “impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” After the Sixth Circuit struck parts of the Kentucky Code of Judicial Conduct, Ohio narrowed its Code. As amended, all judicial candidates—incumbents and challengers—are subject to restrictions on direct, personal monetary solicitation; bans on public political party speeches and endorsements of other candidates; and a prohibition on receiving campaign money earlier than 120-days before the primary. Platt, an attorney who wishes to run for Ohio judicial office, wanted to publicly endorse other candidates, directly solicit campaign funds in person, and to receive campaign contributions without the time limitations. Platt sued to preliminarily enjoin enforcement of the rules as applied to non-sitting judicial candidates. The district court denied Platt’s request, holding that Platt failed to show a strong likelihood of success on the merits of his First Amendment claims and that the requested injunction would cause substantial harm to sitting judicial candidates who would still be subject to the restrictions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "Platt v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Grievances & Discipline" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, physicians and Medicaid providers, wanted to support candidates in the 2010 election, but were barred from doing so by Ohio Rev. Code 3599.45, which limits campaign contributions from Medicaid providers. They sued , arguing that the statute was unconstitutional on its face under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The court rejected that position on plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction and on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, finding unconstitutionality “clear” and “unavoidable.” The district court then entered a permanent injunction. Plaintiffs sought attorneys’ fees and costs (42 U.S.C. 1988) of $665,645.68. A magistrate recommended an award of $454,635.53 in fees and $6,442.03 in costs, with a $100,183 reduction for investigatory work performed before plaintiffs signed a fee agreement; a 25 percent reduction on discovery fees; and a 25 percent reduction on appellate fees. The district court awarded only $128,908.74 in fees and $6,315.00 in costs, drastically cutting hourly rates, striking hours spent on third-party discovery and other miscellaneous matters, and reducing appellate hours by 50 percent. After arriving at its lodestar calculation, the district court further reduced the fees by 35 percent under the Johnson factors. The court expressed concern that “taxpayers will ultimately bear the burden … Plaintiffs are medical doctors presumably abundantly capable of paying for representation” and that “counsel was merely scouring through campaign laws hoping to find an old one … to challenge in the hope of raking in overstated fees.” The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded for recalculation before a different judge. View "Lavin v. Husted" on Justia Law

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A former congressman filed a complaint with the Ohio Elections Commission alleging that SBA violated an Ohio law that criminalizes some false statements made during a political campaign. SBA had stated that his vote for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a vote in favor of “taxpayer funded abortion.” After he lost his re-election bid the complaint was dismissed. SBA pursued a separate challenge on First Amendment grounds. COAST also challenged the law, arguing that it had planned to disseminate a similar message but refrained because of the suit against SBA. The district court consolidated the suits and dismissed them as nonjusticiable, concluding that neither suit presented a sufficiently concrete injury to establish standing or ripeness. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A unanimous Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that the plaintiffs alleged a sufficiently imminent injury under Article III. An “injury in fact” must be “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Challenging a law before enforcement requires alleging “an intention to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest, but proscribed by a statute, and there exists a credible threat of prosecution.” The plaintiffs alleged a credible threat of enforcement. Their intended future conduct is arguably proscribed by the statute. The statute sweeps broadly; the Elections Commission already found probable cause to believe that SBA violated the law when it made statements similar to those they plan to make in the future. SBA’s insistence that its previous statements were true did not preclude finding probable cause. The threat of future enforcement is substantial. There is a history of past enforcement; a complaint may be filed by “any person,” not just a prosecutor or agency. Commission proceedings impose a burden on electoral speech. The target of a complaint may be forced to divert significant time and resources in the crucial days before an election. Those proceedings are backed by the additional threat of criminal prosecution. The Court found the “prudential factors” of fitness and hardship “easily satisfied.” View "Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus" on Justia Law

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The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, impose base limits, restricting how much money a donor may contribute to a particular candidate or committee, and aggregate limits, restricting how much money a donor may contribute in total to all candidates or committees, 2 U.S.C. 441a. In the 2011–2012 election cycle, McCutcheon contributed to 16 federal candidates, complying with all base limits. He alleges that the aggregate limits prevented him from contributing to additional candidates and political committees and that he wishes to make similar contributions in the future. McCutcheon and the Republican National Committee challenged the aggregate limits under the First Amendment. The district court dismissed. The Supreme Court reversed, with five justices concluding that those limits are invalid. Regardless whether strict scrutiny or the “closely drawn” test applies, the analysis depends on the fit between stated governmental objectives and the means selected to achieve the objectives. The aggregate limits fail even under the “closely drawn” test. Contributing to a candidate is an exercise of the right to participate in the electoral process through political expression and political association. A restriction on how many candidates and committees an individual may support is not a “modest restraint.” To require a person to contribute at lower levels because he wants to support more candidates or causes penalizes that individual for “robustly exercis[ing]” his First Amendment rights. The proper focus is on an individual’s right to engage in political speech, not a collective conception of the public good. The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance. The justices noted the line between quid pro quo corruption and general influence and that the Court must “err on the side of protecting political speech.” Given regulations already in effect, fear that an individual might make massive unearmarked contributions to entities likely to support particular candidate is speculative. Experience suggests that most contributions are retained and spent by their recipients; the government provided no reason to believe that candidates or committees would dramatically shift their priorities if aggregate limits were lifted. Multiple alternatives could serve the interest in preventing circumvention without “unnecessary abridgment” of First Amendment rights, such as targeted restrictions on transfers among candidates and committees, tighter earmarking rules, and disclosure. View "McCutcheon v. Fed. Election Comm’n" on Justia Law