Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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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