Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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In this case, James R. Fouts, the former mayor of Warren, Michigan, brought a lawsuit against defendants including the Warren City Council and the City Election Commission. He claimed that they violated his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by applying a new term-limit provision retroactively, which prevented him from running for a fifth term as the city's mayor. The term-limit provision was part of an amendment to the city’s charter, passed by voters, that limited the eligibility of certain city offices to three complete terms or twelve years. Despite having already served four terms as mayor, Fouts attempted to run for a fifth term in 2023, but was disqualified.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Fouts’ claims. The court held that Fouts did not have a fundamental right to run for public office, and thus his First Amendment rights were not violated. The court also ruled that the term-limit provision did not apply retroactively, as it only prohibited Fouts from running for a fifth term, and did not impose new obligations or deprive him of any existing rights based on his past conduct. Therefore, his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were not violated. Lastly, the court found that Fouts failed to demonstrate that he was intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated without any rational basis, and thus his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights were not violated. View "Fouts v. Warren City Council" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Attorney General of Florida petitioned the Supreme Court of Florida for an advisory opinion regarding the validity of a proposed citizen initiative amendment to the Florida Constitution, titled "Amendment to Limit Government Interference with Abortion". The proposed amendment was sponsored by Floridians Protecting Freedom, Inc., and sought to limit the government's ability to prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider.The court approved the proposed amendment for placement on the ballot. In its ruling, the court held that the proposed amendment complied with the single-subject requirement of article XI, section 3 of the Florida Constitution, and that the ballot title and summary complied with section 101.161(1), Florida Statutes. The court also concluded that there is no basis for finding that the proposed amendment is facially invalid under the United States Constitution.The court noted that the ballot summary, which essentially followed the language of the proposed amendment, was an "accurate, objective, and neutral summary of the proposed amendment." Therefore, it concluded that the summary did not mislead voters about what the proposed amendment would achieve. View "Advisory Opinion to the Attorney General re: Limiting Government Interference with Abortion" on Justia Law

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The Florida Supreme Court was asked to review a proposed amendment to the state constitution legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. The court evaluated the amendment for adherence to the constitution’s single-subject requirement, the clarity of the ballot summary, and whether the amendment was facially invalid under the federal constitution. The amendment, titled "Adult Personal Use of Marijuana," aimed to modify the Florida Constitution to legalize the personal use of marijuana by adults and allow licensed centers to sell and distribute marijuana for personal use.The court ruled that the amendment adhered to the single-subject requirement as it focused on a single dominant plan or scheme, which is the legalization of marijuana for personal use. The court disagreed with the argument that the amendment violated the single-subject requirement by both decriminalizing and commercializing recreational marijuana, stating that the sale and possession are logically and naturally related as part of a dominant plan or scheme.The court also ruled that the ballot summary met the statutory standard for clarity. The court disagreed with the opposition that the ballot summary was misleading because it implied that there were already other state-licensed entities ready to engage in the sale of recreational marijuana.Lastly, the court ruled that the amendment is not facially invalid under the U.S. Constitution. The court rejected the argument that the proposed amendment is preempted by the federal Controlled Substances Act and thus invalid under the Supremacy Clause.In conclusion, the court approved the proposed amendment for placement on the ballot, finding it complies with the requirements imposed by the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes. View "Advisory Opinion to the Attorney General Re: Adult Personal Use of Marijuana" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Montana ruled on a case involving a dispute over a proposed ballot initiative related to reproductive rights. In the case, Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights and Samuel Dickman, M.D. (MSRR) sought a declaratory judgment arguing that the Attorney General’s proposed ballot statement for Constitutional Initiative 14 (CI-14) was argumentative, prejudicial, and inaccurate. MSRR also contended that their own proposed ballot statement was clear and impartial and should have been approved by the Attorney General.The court considered whether MSRR could challenge the Attorney General’s ballot statement under relevant statutes and whether the Attorney General had violated certain sections of the Montana Code Annotated by submitting an argumentative, prejudicial, and/or inaccurate ballot statement for CI-14 and by declining to approve MSRR’s proposed ballot statement.The court concluded that the Attorney General’s interpretation of the statute led to an absurd result that abrogated due process. Therefore, MSRR could challenge the Attorney General’s ballot statement under the relevant statutes. The court also found the Attorney General’s ballot statement for CI-14 failed to comply with statutory requirements as it did not fairly present the voters with what was proposed within the Initiative.However, the court disagreed with MSRR’s contention that the Attorney General was required to approve its ballot statement. The court concluded that while the Attorney General’s statement was deficient, he had the statutory authority to determine if MSRR's ballot statement complied with the requirements. The court then crafted a new ballot statement that complied with statutory requirements. View "Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights v. Knudsen" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the constitutionality of several Montana election laws. The plaintiffs, a variety of political and human rights organizations, sued the Montana Secretary of State, arguing that certain election laws were unconstitutional. The challenged laws included provisions restricting absentee voting, changing voter registration deadlines, banning paid absentee ballot collection, and revising voter ID requirements.The Montana Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's judgment, finding that each of the challenged statutes were unconstitutional. The Court held that the laws either impermissibly interfered with or minimally burdened the right to vote, a fundamental right under the Montana Constitution. The Court applied a strict scrutiny or a middle-tier analysis, depending on the extent of the burden on the right to vote, and determined that the state failed to show that the laws were the least onerous path to a compelling state interest or were reasonable and more important than the burden on the right to vote. The Court rejected the Secretary of State's argument that the laws were necessary for administrative efficiency and to ensure the integrity, reliability, and fairness of the election process. View "Democratic Party v. Jacobsen" on Justia Law

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In this case, petitioners Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights and Samuel Dickman, M.D., sought a declaratory judgment on original jurisdiction against the Montana Attorney General and the Montana Secretary of State. The petitioners argued that the Attorney General wrongly determined that their proposed ballot issue was legally insufficient, had no authority to attach a fiscal statement to the ballot issue, and that their ballot statements complied with Montana Code Annotated sections 13-27-212 and -213.The Supreme Court of Montana held that the Attorney General did err in concluding that the proposed ballot issue was legally insufficient, as it did not violate the separate-vote requirement of Article XIV, Section 11, of the Montana Constitution. The proposal effects a single change to the Montana Constitution on a single subject: the right to make decisions about one's own pregnancy, including the right to abortion.The court also found that the Attorney General exceeded his authority by appending a fiscal statement to the proposed ballot issue because the budget director's fiscal note did not indicate that the issue would have a fiscal impact.Finally, the court declined to rule on the compliance of the petitioners’ ballot statements with Montana Code Annotated sections 13-27-212 and -213, directing the Attorney General to prepare a ballot statement in line with statutory requirements and forward it to the Montana Secretary of State.The court essentially concluded that the proposed ballot issue was legally sufficient and did not require separate votes for its multiple components, as they were all closely related to the central issue of reproductive rights. The court also confirmed that the Attorney General had overstepped his authority by attaching a fiscal statement to the ballot issue. View "Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights v. Knudsen" on Justia Law

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In this case, a group of individual donors and two independent-expenditure organizations challenged certain campaign finance regulations enacted in Alaska after voters passed Ballot Measure 2, aimed at shedding light on "dark money" in the state's elections. The plaintiffs argued that these regulations violated their First Amendment rights. The two regulations at issue were: (1) a requirement for individual donors to report contributions exceeding an annual aggregate of $2,000 to an entity making expenditures for a candidate in prior or current election cycles, and (2) a requirement for political advertisements to disclose certain identifying information about donors in any communications intended to influence the election of a candidate.Applying exacting scrutiny, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that both regulations were substantially related and narrowly tailored to the government's interest in providing the electorate with accurate, real-time information. This interest was deemed sufficiently important in the campaign finance context. The court dismissed the plaintiffs' arguments that the reporting requirement was duplicative of existing criminal laws and overly burdensome. It also rejected their contention that the disclaimer requirement for political advertisements was unconstitutionally discriminatory against out-of-state speakers.The court concluded that the plaintiffs had not shown that the district court abused its discretion in denying their motion for a preliminary injunction. Therefore, the district court's denial of the preliminary injunction was affirmed. The court, however, did not consider the remaining factors for a preliminary injunction as they were unnecessary for this holding. View "SMITH V. HELZER" on Justia Law

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In the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Alison Kareem brought a case against the Ohio Secretary of State, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, and the Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney. Kareem challenged two Ohio state election laws, which prohibited her from displaying her marked ballot to others as a violation of her First Amendment rights. Kareem refrained from displaying a photograph of her marked ballot online due to these laws. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants, arguing that Kareem lacked Article III standing.The Appeals Court, however, reversed the district court's order and remanded it for further proceedings. The court held that Kareem had demonstrated a credible threat of enforcement of the Ohio laws, which constituted an injury in fact, a requirement for Article III standing. The court found that Kareem's fear of enforcement, given the possible criminal punishment, the defendants' public statements that displaying marked ballots was illegal, and past instances of enforcement, was not merely subjective or self-imposed. The court also found that Kareem's alleged violation of her First Amendment rights was fairly traceable to the defendants and that the relief she requested was likely to remedy her alleged injury, thus meeting the causation and redressability requirements of Article III standing. The court did not rule on the merits of Kareem's First Amendment claims, leaving that for the district court to decide. View "Kareem v. Cuyahoga County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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In a case before the Indiana Supreme Court, John Rust sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator for Indiana in 2024. Rust was concerned that he may be denied access to the primary ballot because he did not meet the state's Affiliation Statute's criteria. The Affiliation Statute required that a candidate either have voted for the party in the two most recent primary elections in which they voted or have party affiliation certified by the county party chair. Rust had not met either of these conditions. A lower court blocked enforcement of the law, deeming it unconstitutional.The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the lower court's ruling, finding that the Affiliation Statute was constitutionally sound. The court determined that the law imposed a minor, reasonable, and non-discriminatory restriction on Rust's First Amendment rights. It held that the law reasonably balanced the rights of candidates and parties, enabling the Republican Party to limit its candidates, protect its identifiability, and ensure stability in the political system. The court also rejected Rust's arguments that the law violated the Seventeenth Amendment, was vague and overbroad, improperly amended the Indiana Constitution, or allowed for invalid use of discretion under the Affiliation Statute. View "Morales v. Rust" on Justia Law

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In this case, a group of Colorado voters contended that Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits former President Donald J. Trump from holding the Presidential office again. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed, ordering the state to exclude Trump from the Republican primary ballot and to disregard any write-in votes cast for him.The case centered around the interpretation of Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which disqualifies any person from holding a federal or state office who has previously taken an oath to support the Constitution and subsequently engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States. The voters claimed that Trump's actions following his defeat in the 2020 Presidential election, particularly the incitement of the crowd that breached the Capitol on January 6, 2021, constituted such insurrection.The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the decision of the Colorado Supreme Court, ruling that the Constitution makes Congress, rather than the States, responsible for enforcing Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates. The Court maintained that while the States may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state office, they lack the power to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, including the Presidency. The Court argued that permitting state enforcement of Section 3 against federal officeholders and candidates would invert the Fourteenth Amendment’s rebalancing of federal and state power and would raise serious questions about the scope of that power. The Court concluded that such enforcement would lead to chaos and inconsistency in the electoral process. Therefore, the responsibility for enforcing Section 3 rests with Congress, not the States. View "Trump v. Anderson" on Justia Law