Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election 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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In November 2020, Nicholas Douglas was elected to the office of constable of Sumter County. In February 2021, Gregory S. Griggers, the district attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit, filed a petition for the writ of quo warranto, on behalf of the State of Alabama, alleging that Douglas was not eligible to hold the office of constable because he was not a resident of Sumter County and had "a long history of engaging in conduct that is detrimental to the public good." The trial court denied Douglas's motion to dismiss the petition and after a bench trial, Douglas was removed from office.Douglas appealed, arguing that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the quo warranto action. The Supreme Court of Alabama agreed, finding that the action did not comply with the requirements set forth in § 6-6-591, Ala. Code 1975. This statute provides two alternative methods for commencing a quo warranto action: at the direction of a circuit-court judge or without the direction of a circuit-court judge on the information of any person giving security for the costs of the action. In this case, neither of these methods were followed. The court concluded that Griggers was not statutorily authorized to unilaterally commence this quo warranto action on the State's behalf without the direction of a circuit-court judge or without providing security for the costs of the action. Therefore, the trial court's judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded with instructions for the trial court to enter an order vacating its judgment. View "Douglas v. Griggers" on Justia Law

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This case was heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and concerns the electoral boundaries of Senate Districts 1 and 2 in eastern North Carolina. The plaintiffs, two North Carolina voters, filed a lawsuit against the North Carolina State Board of Elections and state officials, alleging that the boundaries of these districts violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). They sought a preliminary injunction to prevent the use of these districts in the 2024 elections and requested the adoption of new districts that they had drawn. The District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina denied the request for a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs then appealed the decision.The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the district court. The appellate court concluded that the plaintiffs had not shown a clear likelihood of success on the merits of their VRA claim, nor had they demonstrated that they would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction. The court also found that the balance of equities favored the defendants, and that an injunction would not serve the public interest. Moreover, the court noted that granting the injunction would disrupt the ongoing 2024 Senate elections, which would not be in the public interest. As such, the court concluded that the plaintiffs had not met the high standard necessary for obtaining a preliminary injunction.The key holding of the case is that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a clear likelihood of success on their claim that the boundaries of Senate Districts 1 and 2 in North Carolina violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and failed to show that they would suffer irreparable harm without a preliminary injunction. Furthermore, granting the injunction would disrupt the ongoing 2024 Senate elections and would not serve the public interest. View "Pierce v. North Carolina State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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A dispute arose over Pennsylvania's rule requiring mail-in and absentee voters to date the return envelope carrying their ballot. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania had ruled this requirement mandatory and declared that undated or incorrectly dated ballots were invalid under state law. The case centered on whether federal law, specifically Section 10101(a)(2)(B) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, mandated that these non-compliant ballots be counted. This provision prohibits the denial of the right to vote due to an immaterial error or omission on paperwork related to voting.The District Court granted summary judgment for the plaintiffs, declaring that rejecting timely received mail ballots due to missing or incorrect dates violated the federal provision. They reasoned that the date requirement was immaterial, as it played no role in determining a vote's timeliness.However, the appellate court reversed this decision. The court held that the federal provision only applies when the state is determining who may vote, not how a qualified voter must cast their ballot. They found that the provision does not apply to rules, like the date requirement, that govern how a qualified voter must cast their ballot for it to be counted. The court concluded that a contrary approach could not be reconciled with the text and historic backdrop of the statute. Therefore, the court ruled that the federal provision does not override Pennsylvania's date requirement for casting a mail-in ballot. The case was remanded for further consideration of the plaintiffs' pending equal protection claim. View "Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches v. Northampton County Board of Elections" 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, Chuck McKay appealed the dismissal of a complaint he filed seeking declaratory relief regarding the Republican Party primary election for a county commissioner position in Saline County, Nebraska in 2022. The district court had dismissed McKay's complaint on the grounds that the exclusive remedy for his claims was an election contest under Nebraska law.McKay alleged that Anita Bartels, the county clerk, had unlawfully altered the boundary of the district in which he was a candidate, which affected the outcome of the election. According to McKay, when votes from the area that Bartels added to the district were disregarded, he would have won the election. Furthermore, McKay contended that Bartels did not meet residency requirements to serve as county clerk, rendering her actions null and void.Despite McKay's assertions that he was not contesting the election, the Nebraska Supreme Court concluded that his complaint effectively sought to do so. The court noted that the election contest statutes were generally the exclusive means for challenging election results. McKay had failed to provide any reasons why an election contest did not provide him with a full, adequate, and serviceable remedy for his claim. Consequently, the court affirmed the dismissal of McKay's complaint on the grounds that it failed to state a claim entitling him to declaratory or equitable relief. View "McKay v. Bartels" 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