Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
by
The previous opinion is withdrawn and replaced by the following opinion concurrently filed with this order. On remand from the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit (1) affirmed the district court's bench trial judgment upholding Alaska's political party-to-party candidate limit; (2) reversed the district court's judgment as to the individual-to-candidate limit, the individual-to-group limit, and the nonresident aggregate limit; and (3) remanded.In this case, at issue are Alaska's limits on contributions made by individuals to candidates, individuals to election-related groups, and political parties to candidates, and also its limit on the total funds a candidate may receive from out-of-state residents. On remand, the court's resolution of the challenges to the political party-to-candidate and nonresident limits remains the same, affirming the district court's decision upholding the former but reversing the decision upholding the latter. However, the panel reversed the district court's decision upholding the individual-to-candidate and individual-to-group limits, applying the five-factor Randall test and concluding that Alaska failed to meet its burden of showing that its individual contribution limit was closely drawn to meet its objectives. The panel explained that, on top of its danger signs, the limit significantly restricts the amount of funds available to challengers to run competitively against incumbents, and the already-low limit is not indexed for inflation. Furthermore, Alaska has not established a special justification for such a low limit. The panel also concluded that, similarly, Alaska has not met its burden of showing that the $500 individual-to-group limit is closely drawn to restrict contributors from circumventing the individual-to-candidate limit. View "Thompson v. Hebdon" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal, based on failure to state a claim, of plaintiff's action seeking to remedy defendants' failure to count his vote in the 2016 November General Election. At issue is whether Arizona residents who registered to vote on October 11, 2016, registered to vote in time to be eligible to vote in the 2016 November General Election. The Arizona law in effect in 2016 set the voter registration deadline for the 2016 November Election on Monday, October 10, 2016. However, because Monday, October 10, 2016 was also Columbus Day, a state and federal holiday, certain methods of voter registration were not available on that day. In this case, plaintiff and roughly 2,000 others registered to vote on Tuesday, October 11, 2016.The panel held that, under Arizona law in effect in 2016, an Arizona resident who registered to vote on October 11, 2016 did not register in time to be eligible to vote in the 2016 November Election. The panel also held that the October 10, 2016 voter registration deadline did not violate the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Accordingly, the panel need not reach the remaining two questions regarding the enforceability of the NVRA under section 1983 and the factual predicate necessary to state a cognizable money damages claim for deprivation of an individual's right to vote. Finally, the panel noted that this rigid result is not likely to reoccur under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 16-120, as amended. View "Isabel v. Reagan" on Justia Law

by
In late August 2020, Yazzie initiated an action challenging Arizona's Receipt Deadline pursuant to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution, and the Arizona Constitution's election clause. The complaint alleges that Navajo Nation reservation residents face myriad challenges to voting by mail where many on-reservation members do not have home mail service. Rather, to receive or send mail, they must travel to a post office. Furthermore, socioeconomic factors, educational disadvantages, and language barriers make both the travel to the post office—which requires access to a car—and the completion of mail ballots difficult. Yazzie also claims that these mail ballots take disproportionately longer to reach the county recorder's office because of the slower mail service on the reservation. In late September 2020, the district court denied Yazzie's motion for preliminary injunction based on its finding that Yazzie did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits or raise serious questions going to the merits of Yazzie's VRA claim.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of Yazzie's request for a preliminary injunction. The panel did not address the district court's analysis of the VRA claim because it concluded that Yazzie and the other plaintiffs lack standing. The panel stated that not only does Yazzie fail to make a clear showing of a concrete and particularized injury, noticeably absent in the record is any particularized allegation with respect to any of the six individual plaintiffs. The panel also stated that, importantly, this case is not a putative class action filed on behalf of the Navajo Nation members who reside on the reservation. In this case, Yazzie failed to establish injury-in-fact for at least one of the individual plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The panel concluded that also missing is a clear showing that the alleged injury is redressable by a favorable decision by this court. View "Yazzie v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit granted a prospective stay of the district court's preliminary injunction enjoining the Secretary's enforcement of the October 5, 2020 deadline prescribed in Ariz. Rev. Stat. 16-120(A), where the district court held that it was unconstitutional as applied during the COVID-19 pandemic. The injunction extended the registration deadline by 18 days to October 23, 2020, and ordered that anyone registering by that date be allowed to vote in the November 3 election.The panel applied the Nken factors to determine whether to grant a stay pending appeal, holding that there is a sufficiently high likelihood of success on appeal where there has been no facial challenge to the statutory registration deadline; the statutory deadline does not impose a "severe burden" on plaintiffs' asserted rights and does not trigger strict scrutiny; the administrative burdens on the state imposed by an October 23 registration deadline are significant; and, even if the burden on voter registration were greater and the burden on the government less, plaintiffs' extremely late filing relative to the deadline is a factor supporting the government's likelihood of success on the merits. Finally, the remaining factors governing issuance of a stay also weigh in the Secretary's favor.The panel granted the Secretary's specific request for a prospective stay, with a two-day grace period. In this case, the Secretary maintains that a retroactive stay would be unfair and might cause irreparable harm to Arizona's voters and damage the public interest. Furthermore, a retroactive stay would replicate some of the injuries that the injunction itself produced, and a retrospective stay would be problematic given that early voting has begun; the Supreme Court has recently employed the remedy of a prospective stay in similar election law cases; and the Supreme Court's election law jurisprudence counsels for deference to politically accountable state officials charged with the responsibility for conducting elections. View "Mi Familia Vota v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit granted emergency motions for a stay pending appeal of the district court's injunction enjoining Ariz. Rev. Stat. 16-548(A), which requires early voters to have signed their ballots by 7:00 PM on Election Day in order to have their votes counted. On September 10, 2020, less than two months before the upcoming presidential election, the district court enjoined the law and ordered Arizona to create and to institute a new procedure that would grant voters who failed to sign their ballots up to five days after voting has ended to correct the error.The panel held that the Nken factors weigh in favor of a stay. In this case, the State has shown that it is likely to succeed on the merits where Arizona's Election Day signature deadline imposes, at most, a "minimal" burden on those who seek to exercise their right to vote. Under the Anderson-Burdick framework for evaluating ballot-access laws, the panel concluded that the State has made a strong showing that its ballot-signature deadline reasonably advances important regulatory interests. Even though plaintiffs contend that the changes to Arizona's law will likely affect only a small number of voters and create a relatively low administrative burden on the State, the panel explained that the State's probability of success on the merits is high. Furthermore, the public interest is well served by preserving Arizona's existing election laws and plaintiffs stand to face only a minimal burden. View "Arizona Democratic Party v. Hobbs" on Justia Law

by
Appellants filed suit alleging that California's winner-take-all (WTA) approach to selecting its presidential electors violates the equal protection and First Amendment rights of California residents who, like appellants, usually do not vote for the State's popular vote winner and thus enjoy no representation among the State's electors.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint, holding that appellants' equal protection challenge is foreclosed by Williams v. Virginia State Board of Elections, a decades-old opinion that was summarily affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. 288 F. Supp. 622 (E.D. Va. 1968), aff'd, 393 U.S. 320 (1969), reh'g denied, 393 U.S. 1112 (1969). The panel joined three sister circuits to have considered the issue in holding that, under Williams, a State's use of WTA to select its presidential electors is consistent with the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.The panel also held that appellants have failed to plausibly allege that California's use of WTA to select presidential electors violates the First Amendment. The panel explained that, because appellants can participate fully in California's presidential election, including voting for their preferred candidates, their right to cast an effective vote is not burdened. Furthermore, WTA does not limit appellants' ability to associate with like-minded voters, and appellants do not allege any restrictions on their ability to petition. Even assuming that appellants had plausibly alleged that the State's use of WTA imposed some minimal burden, their claims would still fail. In this case, any burden is—at most—minimal, and California has identified an important interest: maximizing the impact of the State's electors within the Electoral College. View "Rodriguez v. Newsom" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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

by
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