Articles Posted in US Supreme Court

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Republican voters alleged that Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District was gerrymandered in 2011 in retaliation for their political views. Six years after the General Assembly redrew the District, plaintiffs sought to enjoin election officials from holding congressional elections under the 2011 map. The district court denied the motion and stayed further proceedings pending the Supreme Court’s disposition of partisan gerrymandering claims in Gill v. Whitford. The Supreme Court affirmed. In granting a preliminary injunction a court must consider whether the movant has shown “that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Plaintiffs made no such showing. They did not move for a preliminary injunction until six years, and three general elections, after the 2011 map was adopted, and three years after their first complaint was filed. The delay largely arose from a circumstance within plaintiffs’ control. In considering the balance of equities, that unnecessary, years-long delay weighed against their request. The public interest in orderly elections also supported the decision. Plaintiffs represented to the court that any injunctive relief would have to be granted by August 18, 2017, to ensure the timely completion of a new districting scheme in advance of the 2018 election season. Despite the court’s undisputedly diligent efforts, that date had passed by the time the court ruled. There was also legal uncertainty surrounding any potential remedy for the asserted injury; the court reasonably could have concluded that a preliminary injunction would have been against the public interest and might have had a needlessly disruptive effect on the electoral process. View "Besinek v. Lamone" on Justia Law

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Members of the Wisconsin Legislature are elected from single-member legislative districts. The legislature redraws district boundaries following each census. After the 2010 census, the legislature passed Act 43. Democratic voters alleged that Act 43 harms the Democratic Party’s ability to convert Democratic votes into Democratic legislative seats by “cracking” certain Democratic voters among different districts in which those voters fail to achieve electoral majorities and “packing” other Democratic voters in a few districts in which Democratic candidates win by large margins. They cited an “efficiency gap” that compares each party’s respective “wasted” votes, i.e., votes cast for a losing candidate or for a winning candidate in excess of what that candidate needs to win. The district court enjoined application of Act 43 and required redistricting. The Supreme Court vacated for lack of standing. A plaintiff may not invoke federal-court jurisdiction unless he can show “a personal stake in the outcome,” by proof that he has suffered the “invasion of a legally protected interest” that is “concrete and particularized.” If the plaintiffs’ alleged harm is the dilution of their votes, that injury is district-specific, not statewide. A plaintiff who complains of gerrymandering, but who does not live in a gerrymandered district, “assert[s] only a generalized grievance.” Claims that their votes have been diluted require revising only such districts as are necessary to reshape the voter’s district. Statewide injury to Wisconsin Democrats is a collective political interest, not an individual legal interest. Injury-in-fact is not based on intent but requires proof of a burden on the plaintiffs’ votes that is “actual or imminent," not ‘hypothetical. Studies showing that Act 43 skewed Wisconsin’s statewide map in favor of Republicans do not address the effect that a gerrymander has on the votes of particular citizens. The Court remanded to give the plaintiffs an opportunity to prove concrete and particularized injuries to their individual votes. View "Gill v. Whitford" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law prohibits wearing a “political badge, political button, or other political insignia” inside a polling place on Election Day, Minn. Stat. 211B.11(1), including clothing and accessories with political insignia. Election judges are authorized to decide whether a particular item is banned. Days before the 2010 election, plaintiffs challenged the ban. In response, the state distributed guidance with specific examples of prohibited apparel: items displaying the name of a political party or the name of a candidate, items supporting or opposing a ballot question, “[i]ssue oriented material designed to influence or impact voting,” and “[m]aterial promoting a group with recognizable political views.” Cilek allegedly was turned away from the polls for wearing a “Please I.D. Me” button, a “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirt, and a Tea Party Patriots logo. The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit’s rejection of the constitutional challenges. Minnesota’s political apparel ban violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Because the ban applies only in a “nonpublic forum,” its content-based restrictions would be constitutional if “reasonable and not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view,” The statute makes no distinction based on the speaker’s political persuasion and serves a permissible objective: to set aside polling places as “an island of calm.” The state may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect the distinction between voting and campaigning. However, the “unmoored use of the term “political” in the Minnesota law, combined with haphazard interpretations" render the law unconstitutional for lack of narrow tailoring to serve that objective. Its indeterminate prohibitions present “[t]he opportunity for abuse, especially where [it] has received a virtually open-ended interpretation.” An election judge’s own politics may shape his views on what is “political.” View "Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky" on Justia Law

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The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), 52 U.S.C. 20507(d), provides that a state may not remove a name from voter rolls on change-of-residence grounds unless the registrant either confirms in writing that he has moved or fails to return a pre-addressed, postage prepaid “return card” containing statutorily prescribed content and then fails to vote in any election during the period covering the next two general federal elections. The “Failure-to-Vote Clause,” section 20507(b)(2), provides that a state removal program “shall not result in the removal of the name . . . by reason of the person’s failure to vote,” and, as added by the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), specifies that “nothing in [this prohibition] may be construed to prohibit a State from using the [pre-addressed return card] procedures.” Section 21083(a)(4)(A) states that “no registrant may be removed solely by reason of a failure to vote.” Ohio uses the failure to vote for two years to identify voters who may have moved, then sends these non-voters a pre-addressed, postage prepaid return card. Voters who do not return the card and fail to vote in any election for four more years are removed from the rolls. The Supreme Court held that the Ohio process does not violate the NVRA. The process follows subsection (d): It does not remove a registrant on change-of-residence grounds unless the registrant is sent and fails to mail back a return card and then fails to vote for an additional four years. The Failure-to-Vote Clause simply forbids the use of nonvoting as the sole criterion for removing a registrant; Ohio does not use it that way. An argument that so many registered voters discard return cards upon receipt that the failure to send cards back is worthless as evidence that an addressee has moved “is based on a dubious empirical conclusion that conflicts with the congressional judgment.” View "Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute" on Justia Law

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The North Carolina General Assembly redrew state legislative districts in 2011 to account for population changes revealed by the 2010 census. Plaintiffs alleged that 28 majority-black districts in the new plan were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The district court ruled for the plaintiffs in August 2016, declined to require changes before the November 2016 election, but ordered the General Assembly to redraw the map. Three weeks after the November 2016 election, the court set a March 2017 deadline for drawing new districts, ordering that “[t]he term of any legislator elected in 2016” from a district later redrawn would be replaced by new ones, to be chosen in court-ordered special elections in fall, 2017, to serve a one-year term. The court suspended provisions of the North Carolina Constitution requiring prospective legislators to reside within a district for one year before they may be elected to represent it. The Supreme Court granted a stay pending appeal and subsequently vacated the remedial order. Relief in redistricting cases is “‘fashioned in the light of well-known principles of equity.’” The district court “addressed the balance of equities in only the most cursory fashion.” In determining whether or when a special election may be a proper remedy for a racial gerrymander, obvious considerations include the severity and nature of the particular constitutional violation, the extent of the likely disruption to the ordinary processes of governance if early elections are imposed, and the need to act with proper judicial restraint when intruding on state sovereignty. View "North Carolina v. Covington" on Justia Law