Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

by
Micheal Baca, Polly Baca, and Robert Nemanich (collectively, the Presidential Electors) were appointed as three of Colorado’s nine presidential electors for the 2016 general election. Colorado law required the state’s presidential electors to cast their votes for the winner of the popular vote in the state for President and Vice President. Although Colorado law required the Presidential Electors to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, Mr. Baca cast his vote for John Kasich. In response, Colorado’s Secretary of State removed Mr. Baca as an elector and discarded his vote. The state then replaced Mr. Baca with an elector who cast her vote for Hillary Clinton. After witnessing Baca’s removal from office, Ms. Baca and Mr. Nemanich voted for Hillary Clinton despite their desire to vote for John Kasich. After the vote, the Presidential Electors sued the Colorado Department of State (the Department), alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Department moved to dismiss the complaint. The district court granted the motion, concluding the Presidential Electors lacked standing, and, in the alternative, the Presidential Electors had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Tenth Circuit concluded Mr. Baca had standing to challenge his removal from office and cancellation of his vote, but that none of the Presidential Electors had standing to challenge the institutional injury: a general diminution of their power as electors. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Ms. Baca’s and Mr. Nemanich’s claims but reversed the district court’s standing determination as to Mr. Baca. On the merits of Mr. Baca’s claim, the Court concluded the state’s removal of Mr. Baca and nullification of his vote were unconstitutional. As a result, Mr. Baca stated a claim upon which relief could be granted, and we reversed dismissal of his claim under rule 12(b)(6). The matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Baca v. Colorado Department of State" on Justia Law

by
A citizen initiative passed by Colorado voters in 2016 (“Amendment 71”) made it more difficult to amend the Colorado constitution through the initiative process. Plaintiffs filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983 challenging the constitutionality of Amendment 71, asserting it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Defendant, the Colorado Secretary of State, moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. The United States District Court for the District of Colorado entered judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, ruling that article V, section 1(2.5) of the Colorado constitution violated the “one person, one vote” principle inherent in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the number of registered voters was not substantially the same in each state senate district. Because the district court not only denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss but also entered a final judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1291 and reversed entry of judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and ordered the district court to grant judgment in favor of Defendant. View "Semple v. Griswold" on Justia Law

by
Political subdivisions of the State of Colorado challenged Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (“TABOR”) under the Colorado Enabling Act and the Supremacy Clause, contending that TABOR contradicted the Enabling Act’s requirement that Colorado maintain a “republican form of government.” TABOR allowed the people of Colorado to raise or prevent tax increases by popular vote, thereby limiting the power of Colorado’s legislative bodies to levy taxes. The issue currently before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals was whether certain school districts, a special district board, and/or a county commission had standing to challenge TABOR. On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), the district court held that plaintiffs had Article III standing but that they lacked political subdivision standing and prudential standing. Accordingly, the court dismissed the complaint. The Tenth Circuit concluded that it could not properly reach its conclusions at this stage of litigation. Because the Court held the political subdivision plaintiffs were not barred by standing requirements, the district court was reversed. View "Kerr v. Hickenlooper" on Justia Law

by
In 2012, the Navajo Nation and several of its individual members sued San Juan County, Utah alleging that the election districts for both the school board and the county commission violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The district court denied the county’s motion to dismiss, found that the election districts violated the Equal Protection Clause, and awarded summary judgment to the Navajo Nation. It later rejected the county’s proposed remedial redistricting plan because it concluded the redrawn districts again violated the Equal Protection Clause. The district court then appointed a special master to develop a proposed remedial redistricting plan, directed the county to adopt that remedial plan, and ordered the county to hold special elections based on that plan in November 2018. On appeal, the county challenged each of the district court’s decisions. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Navajo Nation v. San Juan County" on Justia Law

by
At issue here was Utah State Bill SB54, the Utah Elections Amendments Act of 2014 (“SB54”) which reorganized the process for qualifying for a primary ballot in Utah, most importantly, by providing an alternative signature-gathering path to the primary election ballot for candidates who were unable or unwilling to gain approval from the central party nominating conventions. Prior to the passage of SB54, the Utah Republican Party (“URP”) selected its candidates for primary elections exclusively through its state nominating convention, and preferred to keep that process. In this litigation, the URP sued Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox in his official capacity (“the State”), alleging that two aspects of SB54 violated the URP’s freedom of association under the First Amendment, as applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. The two challenged sections: (1) required parties to allow candidates to qualify for the primary ballot through either the nominating convention or by gathering signatures, or both (the “Either or Both Provision”); and (2) required candidates pursuing the primary ballot in State House and State Senate elections through a signature gathering method to collect a set number of signatures (the “Signature Requirement”). In two separate orders, the United States District Court for the District of Utah balanced the URP’s First Amendment right of association against the State’s interest in managing and regulating elections, and rejected the URP’s claims. Re-conducting that balancing de novo on appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. View "Utah Republican Party v. Cox" on Justia Law