Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging Section 204D.13(2) of the Minnesota Statutes, which requires that major party candidates be listed on the ballot in reverse order of the parties' electoral showing in the last general election. Plaintiffs contend that the law irrationally disadvantages their preferred political candidates and is therefore unconstitutional. The district court granted a preliminary injunction enjoining the law's enforcement and prescribed instead a lottery-based system of ordering candidates on Minnesota ballots. Political committees intervened and moved to stay the injunction.As a preliminary matter, the Eighth Circuit held that plaintiffs have Article III standing by alleging a cognizable and redressable injury fairly traceable to the statute. On the merits of the preliminary injunction, the court held that intervenors have shown that, absent a stay, they would be irreparably injured.As to intervenors' likelihood of success, the court held that, under the Anderson/Burdick standard, the burdens imposed by section 204D.13(2) do not unconstitutionally violate the rights asserted. The court considered the character and magnitude of the asserted injury, and observed that the statute does not in any way restrict voting or ballot access; the statute neither systematically advantages incumbents nor advantages the state’s most popular party; but, rather, the statute favors candidates from parties other than the one that received the most votes (on average) in the last general election. In this case, Minnesota's justifications are rationally related to placing political parties in reverse order of popularity and, by design, the statute cannot advantage the state's predominant party. Furthermore, incumbents cannot count on using the statute's operation to its advantage and the statute promotes political diversity. Therefore, the court granted the motion to stay the injunction pending appeal. View "Pavek v. Donald J. Trump for President, Inc." on Justia Law

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AVF is sponsoring a ballot initiative to amend the Arkansas Constitution’s redistricting provisions and began circulating a petition during the COVID–19 pandemic. The Arkansas Constitution and statutes require canvassers to attach to the petition an affidavit affirming that all the petition signatures were made in the presence of the canvasser. The plaintiffs claim they cannot comply with these requirements during the pandemic; all are particularly vulnerable to COVID–19 because of age or medical conditions. They claimed enforcement of the requirements during the pandemic would impermissibly burden their First Amendment rights to express their position on a political matter. The district court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of the requirements.The Eighth Circuit reversed. The district court erroneously applied strict scrutiny; neither requirement violates the First Amendment. The court noted that the right to a state initiative process is not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but is created by state law; states have considerable leeway to protect the integrity of the process. The Arkansas Code provides accommodations for individuals who require assistance signing an initiative petition and, even without those accommodations, there are simple ways to safely comply with the in-person signature requirement during the pandemic. The requirement imposes real burdens but not severe burdens, and serves important interests in preventing signatures from ineligible voters. View "Miller v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction, holding that the district court did not err in finding that plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their claim that Arkansas's recent amendments to the requirements for new political parties to appear on the next general-elections ballot on a whole-ballot basis were unconstitutional.The court also held that, assuming a compelling interest exists, and taking the general boundaries established by precedent, a regime containing (1) a substantial signature requirement, (2) a limited rolling window for obtaining signatures, and (3) a deadline 425 days removed from the general election is not narrowly tailored to a generalized interest in regulating the integrity of elections. Although plaintiffs did not make an overwhelming showing as to the actual burdensomeness of the current regime on their own particular ability or inability to comply, the court held that their showing was sufficient and found no clearly erroneous determinations by the district court. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in fashioning the injunctive relief. View "The Libertarian Party of Arkansas v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of a preliminary injunction enjoining the enforcement of Ark. Code Sec. 7-6-203(b)(1), which provides that candidates can only accept contributions within two years of an election. Plaintiff, who wished to donate to candidates running for state office in Arkansas's 2022 election, alleged that this blackout period violates her First Amendment rights.The court held that plaintiff alleged Article III standing because the allegations in her complaint and affidavit established that she intended to engage in a course of conduct arguably affected with a constitutional interest, but proscribed by a statute, and that there was a credible threat of prosecution if she donated to a candidate. The court also held that the district court correctly determined that, at this early stage of the litigation, plaintiff was likely to succeed on the merits, because Arkansas failed to show how the blackout period advances its anti-corruption interest. View "Jones v. Jegley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that Missouri's lobbying requirements violate his freedom of speech and right to petition the government, and that the law is facially invalid because ordinary citizens do not have fair notice of whom it covers. The Eighth Circuit vacated the district court's order denying plaintiff a preliminary injunction.The court held that Missouri's application of the law to plaintiff violates the First Amendment, because his political activities did not involve the transfer of money or anything of value, either to him or anyone else, and Missouri's interest in transparency did not reflect the seriousness of the actual burden on his First Amendment rights. The court also held that, even though the law does not define or otherwise explain what "designated" means, it is not vague. Instead, the court applied the word's common and ordinary meaning, in context, and held that, just because the law is broad does not mean that it is ambiguous, much less constitutionally vague. Accordingly, the court remanded for further consideration of plaintiff's request for a permanent injunction. View "Calzone v. Summers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit challenging Arkansas's ballot access requirements for independent candidates. The Secretary appealed the district court's grant of plaintiff's request for declaratory and injunctive relief. The Eighth Circuit dismissed the appeal as moot, because the state legislature recently amended the challenged statute to accord with the petition filing deadline that plaintiff had sought, and thus no controversy remains. The court held that the equities weighed against vacatur, and the public interest is best served by a substantial body of judicial precedents limiting the burden that those requirements may place on candidates' and voters' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. View "Moore v. Thurston" on Justia Law

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An unpaid lobbyist unsuccessfully sued to enjoin enforcement of Mo. Rev. Stat. Sections 105.470 and 105.473 which require lobbyists to register and report certain activities. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The district court properly analyzed the claims under an intermediate or exacting level of scrutiny, rather than strict scrutiny, citing the “Citizens United” decision. Missouri has a sufficiently important governmental interest in government transparency to require both paid and unpaid lobbyists to register and report and the registration requirements in Sec. 105.473 are substantially related to Missouri's interest in transparency. The burden placed on the plaintiff is not disproportionate to Missouri's interest and the court did not err in finding the statute was constitutional as applied to the plaintiff. The court rejected a facial challenge to the word "designated" in the definition of a legislative lobbyist. The term is clearly defined, and the statute uses the word within its plain meaning; “people of ordinary intelligence” would have a “reasonable opportunity to understand” what “designated” means in the context of the statute. View "Calzone v. Hagan" on Justia Law

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The North Dakota Secretary of State filed a motion to stay an order of the district court that enjoined parts of the North Dakota elections statutes. The district court enjoined the Secretary from enforcing a provision that required a voter to present at the polls a valid form of identification that provides the voter's current residential street address.The Eighth Circuit granted the motion and held that the Secretary demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits in his challenge to this aspect of the injunction, the State would be irreparably harmed by the injunction during the general election in November, and a stay should be granted after consideration of all relevant factors. View "Brakebill v. Jaeger" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff was appointed as a presidential elector during the 2016 presidential election, he was deemed to have vacated his position under Minnesota's Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act, Minn. Stat. 208.40-208.48, when he attempted to vote for candidates other than those to whom he was pledged. Plaintiff then filed suit challenging the constitutionality of the Minnesota statute and to enjoin Minnesota officials from counting the vote of the substitute elector.The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the action as moot where Congress had counted the Minnesota elector votes, and denied plaintiff's motion to supplement the record and to remand for further proceedings on mootness. The court held that plaintiff failed to establish that his action fell within the mootness exception for cases that were capable of repetition yet evading review because plaintiff failed to file his action sooner. View "Abdurrahman v. Dayton" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Robert McChesney's suit against the Commission after it imposed a civil penalty on him as treasurer of Bart McLeay's campaign for United States Senate in Nebraska. In this case, the Commission found that McChesney failed to file certain notices of campaign contributions that must be reported within 48 hours.As a preliminary matter, the court held that it was not reversible error for the district court to rule based on the record that was available to it, and the court rejected the Commission's contention that McChesney did not bring a proper challenge. On the merits, the court rejected McChesney's claim that the Commission failed to establish the 2014 penalty schedule and held that the statute did not require the Commission in 2014 to conduct the sort of evaluative review that McChesney sought; the district court properly declined to set aside the 2014 penalty schedule based on an alleged violation of the Sunshine Act or implementing regulations; and McChesney did not plead a plausible claim for relief based on alleged flaws in the Commission's voting procedure. View "McChesney v. Hunter" on Justia Law