Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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In this case, the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed a lower court's decision that a redistricting plan for the Missouri Senate, which was prepared by a judicial redistricting commission, met constitutional requirements. The appellants, residents of districts impacted by the redistricting, argued that the plan violated the community preservation requirement of the Missouri Constitution by splitting certain communities into different senatorial districts. The court found the appellants did not meet their burden of proving the plan was clearly and undoubtedly unconstitutional. The court noted that the constitution allows for some flexibility in the redistricting process and that the plan need not achieve absolute perfection. The court concluded that the redistricting plan did not violate the constitutional requirements and was not the result of partisan or racial gerrymandering. View "Faatz v. Ashcroft" on Justia Law

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In Minnesota, a group of voters sought to prevent former President Donald Trump from appearing on the 2024 presidential primary and general election ballots, arguing that Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which disqualifies anyone from holding office who has engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the U.S., rendered him ineligible. The Minnesota Supreme Court held that it would not be an error to place Trump's name on the 2024 Republican Party presidential nomination primary ballot. The court reasoned that the nomination primary is an internal party election, and the state law does not prohibit a major political party from placing an ineligible candidate on the primary ballot. However, the court did not decide on the issue of Trump's name on the general election ballot, stating that the matter was not yet ripe for adjudication as it was not "about to occur" under the relevant state law. The court did not foreclose the possibility of petitioners bringing such a claim at a later date. View "Growe v. Simon" on Justia Law

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A group of voters and officials in Wisconsin brought a case before the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, arguing that the state's current legislative districts were not contiguous and therefore violated the state constitution. The respondents countered that the districts were contiguous, as they included separate, detached territories known as "municipal islands." The court ruled in favor of the petitioners, holding that the current legislative districts did not meet the contiguity requirements of the state constitution. The court explained that "contiguous territory" means territory that is physically touching, and the current districts, which include separate, detached parts, do not meet this requirement. The court also rejected the respondents' defenses of lack of standing, laches, issue preclusion, claim preclusion, and judicial estoppel. As a remedy, the court enjoined the Wisconsin Elections Commission from using the current legislative maps in future elections and urged the legislature to pass legislation creating new maps that satisfy all legal requirements. The court also set forth a process for adopting new state legislative districts if the legislature fails to enact new maps. View "Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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In a case brought by a group of Colorado electors, the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado considered whether former President Donald J. Trump could appear on the Colorado Republican presidential primary ballot. The electors claimed that Trump was disqualified under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits anyone who has engaged in insurrection against the U.S. Constitution from holding office. The district court found that Trump had engaged in insurrection on January 6, 2021, but concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to the presidency.Upon review, the Supreme Court of the State of Colorado held that the Election Code allows the electors to challenge Trump's status as a qualified candidate based on Section Three. The court found that Congress does not need to pass legislation for Section Three's disqualification provision to apply, and that the provision encompasses the office of the Presidency. The court further held that the district court did not err in finding that Trump had engaged in insurrection, and that his speech inciting the crowd was not protected by the First Amendment. As a result, the court concluded that Trump is disqualified from holding the office of President under Section Three, and it would be a wrongful act under the Election Code for the Secretary of State to list him as a candidate on the presidential primary ballot. The court stayed its ruling until January 4, 2024, to maintain the status quo pending any review by the U.S. Supreme Court. View "Anderson v. Griswold" on Justia Law

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In the state of Kansas, a number of non-profit groups, including the League of Women Voters of Kansas and the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, challenged a law which made it a felony to engage in conduct that gives the appearance of being an election official or that would cause another person to believe a person is an election official. The non-profits argued that the law was overbroad and unconstitutionally vague, as it could criminalize their voter education and registration activities. They also claimed that the law violated their rights to free speech and association. The district court denied their request for a temporary injunction and the Court of Appeals dismissed the non-profits' claims for lack of standing, arguing that they were not at risk of prosecution under the statute. The Supreme Court of the State of Kansas reversed these decisions, finding that the non-profits did have standing to challenge the law. The Court held that when a law criminalizes speech and does not clearly demonstrate that only constitutionally unprotected speech is being criminalized, the law is unclear enough to confer pre-enforcement standing on a plaintiff challenging the law. The Supreme Court of the State of Kansas vacated the Court of Appeals' decision and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings. View "League of Women Voters of Kansas v. Schwab" on Justia Law

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In a case concerning the constitutionality of the Kentucky General Assembly's legislative and congressional reapportionment plans, the Supreme Court of Kentucky affirmed the lower court's decision that the plans were constitutional. The appellants, which included the Kentucky Democratic Party and several individual voters, challenged the plans, alleging that they were the result of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering, violated the Kentucky Constitution's guarantees of free and equal elections, equal protection, and freedom of speech and assembly, and violated Section 33 of the Kentucky Constitution, which sets forth requirements for the reapportionment process. The court held that the apportionment plans did not involve an unconstitutional level of partisan gerrymandering and did not violate the state constitution's guarantees of free and equal elections, equal protection, freedom of speech and assembly, or Section 33's requirements for the reapportionment process. The court applied a substantially deferential standard in its review, given the political nature of the apportionment process. It found that the plans did not involve a clear, flagrant, and unwarranted deviation from constitutional limitations, nor did they threaten the state's democratic form of government. The court also found that the appellants had standing to bring their claims and that the claims were justiciable. View "GRAHAM V. ADAMS" 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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In a case involving former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has partially upheld and partially vacated a lower court's order restricting Trump's public statements about the trial. The case stems from Trump being indicted for conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election through unlawful means and for obstructing the election’s certification. Trump had posted numerous statements on social media attacking potential witnesses in the case, the judge, and the prosecution team. The lower court issued an order restraining the parties and their counsel from making public statements that "target" the parties, counsel and their staffs, court personnel, and "any reasonably foreseeable witness or the substance of their testimony." On appeal, the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the order insofar as it prohibited all parties and their counsel from making public statements about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses concerning their potential participation in the investigation or in the criminal proceeding. The court also upheld the order to the extent it prohibited parties and their counsel from making public statements about counsel in the case other than the Special Counsel, members of the court’s staff and counsel’s staffs, or the family members of any counsel or staff member, if those statements were made with the intent to materially interfere with the trial or with the knowledge that such interference was highly likely to result. However, the court vacated the order to the extent it covered speech beyond these categories. The court found that the order was justified by a sufficiently serious risk of prejudice to an ongoing judicial proceeding, that no less restrictive alternatives would adequately address that risk, and that the order was narrowly tailored to ensure the fair administration of justice while also respecting Trump's First Amendment rights. View "USA v. Donald Trump" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reviewed challenges to a redistricting plan adopted by the Alaska Redistricting Board. After the 2020 census, the Board adopted a plan for 40 House of Representative districts and 20 Senate districts. Several entities filed challenges to this plan, arguing that certain districts were unconstitutional due to violations of due process and gerrymandering. The superior court found two House districts and one Senate district to be unconstitutional and directed the Board to undertake further redistricting efforts. Four petitions for review were filed with the Supreme Court.The Court affirmed the superior court's ruling regarding the Senate district, but reversed the ruling regarding the two House districts. The Court found that the Board did not violate the "hard look" requirement, which requires that the Board seriously consider all salient problems and engage in reasoned decision-making. The Court also held that the Board sufficiently complied with the Hickel process, a procedural sequence that ensures the redistricting satisfies federal law without unnecessarily compromising the Alaska Constitution.Furthermore, the Court determined that the Board did not have discriminatory intent in its actions, and that the minor deviations in population among various districts did not violate the "one person, one vote" requirement. The Court also concluded that the Board did not violate the provision requiring each House district to contain a population as near as practicable to the quotient obtained by dividing the population of the state by forty.Regarding the Senate district, the Court affirmed the superior court’s conclusion that the relevant Senate district pairings were an unconstitutional gerrymander. The Court remanded the case for further redistricting efforts consistent with its order. View "In the Matter of the 2021 Redistricting Cases" on Justia Law