Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought after the death of Arizona Senator John McCain, challenging the constitutionality of an Arizona statute that governs appointments and elections in the aftermath of a vacancy in the United States Senate. Plaintiffs argued that the November 2020 vacancy election date and the 27-month interim appointment duration violate the time constraints implicit in the Seventeenth Amendment. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, because there was no authority for invalidating the state statute on this basis. Although the panel found plaintiffs' interpretation a possible one based on the text and history of the Seventeenth Amendment, the panel concluded that it was foreclosed by binding precedents. Plaintiffs also argued that the November 2020 vacancy election date impermissibly burdens their right to vote as protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, because important state regulatory interests justify what was a reasonable and nondiscriminatory restriction on plaintiffs' right to vote. Finally, plaintiffs challenge Arizona's statutory mandates that the Governor must make a temporary appointment and must choose a member of the same party as the Senator who vacated the office. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of this challenge based on failure to state a claim, and rejected plaintiffs' interpretation of the relevant Seventeenth Amendment language. The panel also affirmed the district court's dismissal of the challenge based on lack of standing where there was no harm on the basis of representation by a Republican and no redressability where the Republican Governor would appoint a Republican anyway. View "Tedards v. Ducey" on Justia Law

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The en banc court reversed the district court's judgment for defendants in an action brought by the DNC and others. The DNC challenged Arizona's policy of wholly discarding, rather than counting or partially counting, ballots cast in the wrong precinct. The DNC also challenged House Bill 2023, a 2016 statute criminalizing the collection and delivery of another person’s ballot. The en banc court held that Arizona’s policy of wholly discarding, rather than counting or partially counting, out-of-precinct ballots, and H.B. 2023's criminalization of the collection of another person's ballot, have a discriminatory impact on American Indian, Hispanic, and African American voters in Arizona, in violation of the “results test” of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The en banc court further held that H.B. 2023's criminalization of the collection of another person's ballot was enacted with discriminatory intent, in violation of the "intent test" of Section 2 of the VRA and of the Fifteenth Amendment. The en banc court did not reach the DNC's First and Fourteenth Amendment claims. View "The Democratic National Committee v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

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Montana Code section 45-8-216(1)(e)—which restricts automated telephone calls promoting a political campaign or any use related to a political campaign—violates the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Attorney General of Montana, holding that regulating robocalls based on the content of their messaging presents a more severe threat to First Amendment freedoms than regulating their time, place, and manner. Furthermore, prohibiting political robocalls strikes at the heart of the First Amendment, as well as disproportionately disadvantages political candidates with fewer resources. After determining that plaintiff had standing to challenge Montana's Robocall Statute, the panel held that Montana's content-based restrictions on robocalls cannot survive strict scrutiny. Although protecting personal privacy was a compelling state interest, the panel held that the statute was not narrowly tailored to further this interest, the statute was both underinclusive and overinclusive, and thus the statute's restriction on political messages did not survive strict scrutiny. View "Victory Processing, LLC v. Fox" on Justia Law

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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