Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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The Association filed suit challenging Montana's electioneering disclosure laws on First Amendment grounds. Under Montana law, an organization that makes an expenditure of more than $250 on a single electioneering communication must register as a political committee, subject to certain organizational and disclosure requirements. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for Montana except with respect to one provision. Like the disclosure provisions the panel approved in Human Life of Washington Inc. v. Brumsickle, 624 F.3d 990, 1016 (9th Cir. 2010), and Yamada v. Snipes, 786 F.3d 1182 (9th Cir. 2015), the panel held that most of Montana's disclosure and related requirements are substantially related to important governmental interests connected with informing the electorate. However, the panel held that only Montana's requirement that organizations designate a treasurer registered to vote in Montana is constitutionally infirm. In this case, the requirement was not substantially related to any important governmental interest, and was severable from the rest of the disclosure regime. View "National Association for Gun Rights, Inc. v. Mangan" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of a Guam resident who challenged a provision of Guam's 2000 Plebiscite Law that restricted voting to "Native Inhabitants of Guam." Rice v. Cayetano, 528 U.S. 495 (2000), and Davis v. Commonwealth Election Comm'n, 844 F.3d 1087 (9th Cir. 2016), respectively invalidated laws in Hawaii and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands limiting voting in certain elections to descendants of particular indigenous groups because those provisions employed ancestry as a proxy for race in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. The panel held that Guam's 2000 Plebiscite Law is subject to the requirements of the Fifteenth Amendment, and that the classification "Native Inhabitants of Guam" serves as a proxy for race. Therefore, Guam's limitations on the right to vote in its political status plebiscite to "Native Inhabitants of Guam" violates the Fifteenth Amendment. View "Davis v. Guam" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by independent presidential candidate Roque De La Fuente challenging two California ballot access laws, Cal. Elec. Code 8400, 8403. These Ballot Access Laws require independent candidates to collect signatures from one percent of California's registered voters to appear on a statewide ballot. The panel held that De La Fuente had standing because he suffered a concrete injury that was not merely speculative. On the merits, the panel held that California's overall scheme did not significantly impair ballot access. Rather, the laws were generally applicable, even-handed, politically neutral, and aimed at protecting the reliability and integrity of the election process. The panel also held that the Ballot Access Laws reasonably relate to California's important regulatory interests in managing its democratic process and are proportionate to California's large voter population. View "De La Fuente v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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The Libertarian Party challenged a state law requiring up to 1% of voters eligible to participate in its primary to sign a nominating petition for a Libertarian candidate to earn a place on the primary ballot. Affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Secretary, the Ninth Circuit applied the balancing framework in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983), and Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428 (1992), and held that the State's signature requirement imposed a minimal burden on the Libertarian Party's right to access the primary ballot and thus required a less exacting scrutiny. The panel held that the primary signature requirements reasonably further Arizona's important regulatory interests and therefore justify a modest burden on the Libertarian Party's right to ballot access. The panel also held that the Arizona law did not infringe upon the Libertarian Party's right to free association and did not violate equal protection. View "Arizona Libertarian Party v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a candidate for public office in California, challenged the California Elections Code, which mandated that the primary ballot list his party preference as "None" instead of the Socialist Party USA. The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that California, at this very early stage of the litigation, failed to demonstrate as a matter of law why its ballot must describe plaintiff as having no party preference when in fact he preferred the Socialist Party USA. The panel agreed with the Secretary of State that the burden the California statutes imposed on plaintiff's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights was not severe. However, the burden imposed on plaintiff's rights was more than "slight" and warranted scrutiny that was neither strict nor wholly deferential. In this case, the primary purported justification for the statutes—avoiding voter confusion—was an important government interest, but it was unclear why less burdensome and less misleading alternatives would not accomplish the state's goals. View "Soltysik v. Padilla" on Justia Law

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A 2006 Initiative, amending Alaska’s election laws, returned the individual-to-candidate and individual-to-group limits to their pre-2003 levels of $500 per year, Alaska Stat. 15.13.070(b)(1); capped the amount a non-political party group could contribute to a candidate at $1,000; restricted the amount candidates could receive from nonresidents to $3,000 per year, and limited the amount a political party, including its subdivisions, could contribute to a candidate. The voter information packet included a statement that "Corruption is not limited to one party or individual. Ethics should be not only bipartisan but also universal. From the Abramoff and Jefferson scandals in Washington D.C. to side deals in Juneau, special interests are becoming bolder every day. They used to try to buy elections. Now they are trying to buy the legislators themselves." In 2015, Plaintiffs brought a First Amendment challenge. The Ninth Circuit held that affirmance on the individual-to-candidate and individual-to-group limits was compelled by precedent and upheld the political party-to-candidate limit. Those restrictions were narrowly tailored to prevent quid pro quo corruption or its appearance and did not impermissibly infringe constitutional rights. The court held that the nonresident limit, which at most, targeted contributors’ influence over Alaska politics, did not target an “important state interest” and therefore violated the First Amendment. View "Thompson v. Hebdon" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a preliminary injunction and its bench trial judgment in an action facially challenging HB 2023, Arizona's 2016 election law prohibiting certain persons from collecting voters' early mail ballots. A person who knowingly collects voted or unvoted early ballots from another person is guilty of a class 6 felony under HB 2023. The panel held that H.B. 2023 was not preempted by federal laws regulating the United States Postal Service, did not violate the First Amendment's protection of speech by implicating the First Amendment rights of ballot collectors, and was not an unconstitutionally vague criminal statute where it did not violate either the fair notice or the arbitrary enforcement requirements. View "Knox v. Brnovich" on Justia Law

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The DNC and others filed suit against the state of Arizona, challenging two state election practices: (1) Arizona's longstanding requirement that in-person voters cast their ballots in their assigned precinct, which Arizona enforces by not counting ballots cast in the wrong precinct (OOP policy), and (2) H.B. 2023, a recent legislative enactment which precludes most third parties from collecting early ballots from voters. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that the district court did not err in holding that H.B. 2023 and the OOP policy did not violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments because they imposed only a minimal burden on voters and were adequately designed to serve Arizona's important regulatory interests; the district court did not err in holding that H.B. 2023 and the OOP policy did not violate section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; DNC failed to show that minority voters were deprived of an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice; and the district court did not err in holding that H.B. 2023 did not violate the Fifteenth Amendment because plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of showing that H.B. 2023 was enacted with discriminatory intent. View "The Democratic National Committee v. Reagan" on Justia Law

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Only 25% of registered California voters participated in the June 2014 primary; only 42% voted in the November 2014 general election. To increase participation in the democratic process, California enacted the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA), modeled after Colorado’s successful election system. A ballot is automatically mailed to every registered voter 29 days before the election date, Cal. Elec.Code 4005(a)(8)(A). A voter may cast a completed ballot by mailing it in, depositing the ballot at a designated “ballot dropoff location” (a large locked mailbox), or submitting it at a “vote center.” The voter may cast his ballot as soon as he receives it. Rather than require all 58 California counties to implement this new voting system immediately, the VCA authorizes 14 counties to opt in on or after January 1, 2018. All other counties may implement the all-mailed system on or after January 1, 2020. Within six months of each election conducted under the system, the California Secretary of State must submit to the legislature a detailed report assessing turnout and other metrics of success. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction in a suit alleging that the VCA violated the Equal Protection Clause by restricting the fundamental right to vote on the basis of county of residence, without sufficient justification. View "Short v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's judgment invalidating Montana's limits of the amount of money individuals, political action committees, and political parties may contribute to candidates for state elective office, Montana Code Annotated 13-37-216. The panel held that Montana has shown the risk of actual or perceived quid pro quo corruption in Montana politics was more than "mere conjecture," which was the low bar that it must overcome. The panel also held that Montana's limits were "closely drawn" to serve the state's anti-corruption interest, and the limits were tailored to avoid favoring incumbents, not to curtail the influence of political parties, and to permit candidates to raise enough money to make their voices heard. View "Lair v. Motl" on Justia Law