Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Texas applicants may transmit a voter registration form to the county registrar via fax, then deliver or mail a hardcopy of the application within four days, Elec.Code 13.143(d-2). Vote.org, a non-profit, non-membership organization, launched a web application, with which a user would supply the required information and an electronic image of her signature. The application would assemble a completed voter registration application, then transmit it to a third-party vendor, who would transmit the form via fax to the county registrar; another vendor would mail a hardcopy to the registrar. A 2018 pilot program in four counties “was an unmitigated disaster. Because applications submitted using the web application lacked an original, “wet” signature, the Secretary of State advised that those applications were incomplete. In 2021, House Bill 3107 clarified that for “a registration application submitted by [fax] to be effective, a copy of the original registration application containing the voter’s original signature must be submitted by personal delivery or mail” within four days.The district court concluded that the wet-signature requirement violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 52 U.S.C. 10101(a)(2)(B), because an original signature is “not material” to an individual’s qualification to vote and granted a permanent injunction. The Fifth Circuit granted a stay pending appeal, concluding that Vote.org lacks statutory standing and is unlikely to prevail on the merits. The wet-signature rule imposes a very slight burden on the right to vote and helps deter voter registration fraud. View "Vote.Org v. Paxton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs and the United States filed suit against the State of Texas, as well as state and local officials, seeking to enjoin enforcement of some or all of the new provisions in Senate Bill 1, which amended various provisions of the Texas Election Code pertaining to voter registration, voting by mail, poll watchers, and more.The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the Committees' motion to intervene as defendants, concluding that the Committees have a right to intervene under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a)(2). The court determined that the Committees made a timely application to intervene by right; they claim interests relating to SB 1 which is the subject of this consolidated suit; their absence from the suit may practically impede their ability to protect their interests; and the existing parties might not adequately represent those interests. Accordingly, the court remanded to allow the Committees to intervene by right in this suit. View "La Union del Pueblo Entero v. Harris County Republican Party" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit concluded that sovereign immunity bars plaintiffs' challenges to Texas's system for verifying the signatures on mail-in ballots. The court concluded that the Secretary does not verify mail-in ballots; rather, that is the job of local election officials. Therefore, the district court erred in finding that the Secretary was the proper defendant under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's order enjoining the Secretary, vacated the injunction, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Flores v. Scott" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs' action challenging the constitutionality of various provisions of the Texas Election Code regulating mail-in balloting is barred by sovereign immunity. The court concluded that the Secretary does not enforce the challenged provisions and thus the district court erred in finding the Secretary was a proper defendant under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). The court reversed the district court's judgment and remanded with instructions to dismiss plaintiffs' claims. View "Lewis v. Hughs" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs' constitutional claims challenging Texas's elimination of straight-ticket voting are barred by sovereign immunity because the Secretary of State does not enforce the law that ended straight-ticket voting. The court agreed with the Secretary that he lacks the necessary connection to enforcing House Bill 25's repeal of straight-ticket voting and therefore is not a proper defendant under Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 155–56 (1908). Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's order enjoining the Secretary of State, vacated the injunction, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Texas Alliance for Retired Americans v. Scott" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs' request to enjoin Harris County's administration of drive-thru voting in the November 2020 election is moot. The court explained that, since plaintiffs' appeal, the November 2020 election has been completed; the results have been certified; and new officeholders have been sworn in. The court also concluded that plaintiffs failed to identify any evidence in the record before the district court demonstrating that Harris County will offer drive-thru voting again in the future, let alone that it will offer it in such a way as to evade judicial review.Furthermore, while this appeal was pending, the Legislature passed S.B. 1, which addresses drive-thru voting. The court concluded that the challenge raised in last year's case before the district court is moot as to elections after December 2, 2021. Even if the court considered the argument that candidates have standing and assumed arguendo that candidates do have standing to challenge election procedures, that standing would pertain only to their claim as to the November 2020 election, the only election in which they claimed to be candidates. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of injunctive relief and the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' claims for want of jurisdiction. The court also vacated the district court's advisory discussion of the legality of drive-thru voting without offering any opinion as to the merits of that reasoning. View "Hotze v. Hudspeth" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of sovereign immunity in an action brought by voters and political organizations against the Texas Secretary of State seeking to enjoin the enforcement of HB 1888, a state law that bars counties from operating mobile or pop-up early voting locations.The court concluded that Mi Familia Vota v. Abbott, which held that the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of Texas Election Code 85.062–85.063 because local officials are responsible for administering and enforcing those statutes, is controlling in this case. The court explained that, if the Secretary has no connection to the enforcement of section 85.062 or 85.063, then it follows that she has no connection to the enforcement of HB 1888, as codified in the neighboring section 85.064, which governs the days and hours of voting at temporary branch locations. Because the Secretary is not sufficiently connected to the enforcement of HB 1888, the court need not consider her argument that plaintiffs are seeking improper relief under Ex parte Young. Accordingly, the court remanded from this interlocutory appeal with instructions to dismiss. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Hughs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, black citizens of Misssissippi who have lost their right to vote in Mississippi because they were convicted of crimes enumerated in section 241 of the Mississippi Constitution, filed suit alleging that section 241 violates the Fourteenth Amendment because it was enacted with a discriminatory purpose.After determining that plaintiffs have Article III standing and that the suit is not barred by sovereign immunity, the Fifth Circuit agreed with the district court that per Cotton v. Fordice, 157 F.3d 388 (5th Cir. 1998), the discriminatory taint of the 1890 provision was removed by the amendment processes in 1950 and 1968. Furthermore, under the rule of orderliness, the court was bound by that decision. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Secretary of State. View "Harness v. Hosemann" on Justia Law

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After movants, who were the plaintiffs in a separate but similar case, were denied intervention in the district court, they moved to intervene in the Secretary of State's ongoing appeal concerning signature-verification procedures for ballots.The Fifth Circuit denied the motion to intervene because intervention on appeal is reserved for exceptional cases and movants' reasons for intervening do not come close to that high threshold. The court rejected movants' argument in favor of intervention because their appeal needs to be consolidated with the Secretary's appeal. The court explained that, because both movants and the Secretary are appealing from the same order, both appeals have been docketed under the same case number in this court. Therefore, assuming the motion to intervene in the Secretary's appeal is denied, the same merits panel will hear both the Secretary's appeal of the summary judgment and movants' appeal of the denial of their motion to intervene. The court stated that, to the extent movants want their voices heard, the proper procedure is to move to appear as amici curiae, not to move to intervene. Finally, the court declined to strike the motion. View "Richardson v. Texas Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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The City of Houston contends that it is being sued for a so-called "zombie" law. The City's Charter allows only registered voters to circulate petitions for initiatives and referenda, even though the Supreme Court held a similar law unconstitutional twenty years ago. Plaintiffs, Trent and Trey Pool, sought a preliminary injunction allowing them to collect signatures for their anti-pay-to-play petition as well as a declaratory judgment that the Charter's voter-registration and residency provisions are unconstitutional, permanent injunctive relief against enforcement of those provisions, and nominal damages. Plaintiffs also filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO), which would allow them to circulate the petition through the deadline of July 9, 2019. The district court granted a TRO, allowing plaintiffs to circulate the petition for the next week, but concluded that plaintiffs had not demonstrated an injury sufficient to support standing with regard to future petitions. The district court later dismissed plaintiffs' remaining claims. Although the City now concedes that the qualified-voter requirement is unconstitutional, at issue is whether plaintiffs may obtain a permanent injunction preventing its enforcement.The Fifth Circuit held that, although there would not usually be a reasonable fear of continued enforcement of a zombie law, the history of Houston's qualified-voter requirement gives Trent Pool standing to seek an injunction that would guard against continued chilling of his speech. The court also held that the City has not met its heavy burden of showing that plaintiffs' challenges are moot. Therefore, because there is a reasonable concern that the City might enforce its unconstitutional Charter provision, the court reversed the judgment dismissing this case and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pool v. City of Houston" on Justia Law