Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court
by
The Supreme Court answered three questions certified to it by the United States District Court for the District of Utah in this case challenging a civil fine issued under the Political Activities of Public Entities Act, Utah Code 20A-11-1205, answering, inter alia, that a Utah state district court does not have appellate jurisdiction to review the Utah County Board of Commissioners' decision upholding a fine levied under the statute.Further, the Supreme Court answered (1) the term "ballot proposition" as used in Utah Code 10A-11-1205(1) encompasses the entire referendum process, including the period of time before a referendum's sponsors have obtained the requisite number of signatures on the referendum petition; and (2) the term "ballot proposition" as used in section 10A-11-1205(1) includes the signature gathering phase of the referendum process, even if the challenged local government action is later found to be administrative in nature and therefore not subject to a referendum. View "Downs v. Thompson" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court denied the petition for extraordinary writ sought by advocates for a statewide ballot initiative called the Direct Primary Initiative, holding that Petitioners' statutory claims and all but one of the constitutional claims failed on the merit and that Petitioners failed to carry their burden of identifying an undisputed basis for the relief requested.Petitioners - Count My Vote, Inc., Michael O. Leavitt, and Richard McKeown - were advocates for a proposed initiative that would establish a direct primary election path for placement on the general election ballot for persons seeking a political party's nomination for certain elected offices. The lieutenant governor refused to certify the initiative for the November 2018 ballot, finding that Petitioners failed to satisfy the requirements of Utah Code 20A-7-201(2)(a). Petitioners then brought this petition for extraordinary writ on statutory and constitutional grounds. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding (1) the majority of Petitioners' statutory and constitutional claims failed on the merits; (2) one of the constitutional claims implicates an underlying dispute of material fact on the nature and extent of any burden on the right to pursue an initiative under Utah Const. art. VI, 1; and (3) Petitioners failed to carry their burden of establishing an undisputed basis for the requested relief. View "Count My Vote, Inc. v. Cox" on Justia Law

by
In answer to three questions certified to it by the federal district court the Supreme Court answered, among other things, that a Utah state district court does not have appellate jurisdiction to review the Utah County Board of Commissioners' decision upholding a fine levied under Utah Code 20A-11-1205.Steven Downs, the Public Information Officer for the City of Orem, was fined for violating the Political Activities of Public Entities Act, specifically, section 20A-11-1205(1)(b), which stated that "a person may not send an email using the email of a public entity...to advocate for or against a ballot proposition." The Board of Commissioners voted to uphold the fine. Downs filed a petition in the federal district court challenging the ruling on several grounds. The federal court reserved ruling on a number of motions until receiving guidance on the three questions certified to the Supreme Court. The Court answered (1) section 20A-11-1205 does not convey appellate jurisdiction on state district courts; (2) the term "ballot proposition" as used in section 20A-11-1205(1) includes the entire referendum process; and (3) a "ballot proposition" as used in section 21A-11-1205(1) includes the entirety of the referendum process even if the challenged local government action is later found to be administrative in nature and therefore not subject to a referendum. View "Downs v. Thompson" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court dismissed this petition for extraordinary relief asserting that the actions of Governor Gary R. Herbert, Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox, and the Utah Legislature in replacing a citizens' initiative approved by Utah voters that legalized medical cannabis and replacing the initiative with H.B. 3001 were unconstitutional, holding that some of Petitioners' arguments failed on the merits and that the remainder of the petition did not comply with Rule 19 of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure.The day H.B. 3001 passed, some of the Petitioners filed a referendum application with the Lieutenant Governor that would have allowed H.B. 3001 to be put to a vote of the people. The Lieutenant Governor denied the petition because he determined one of the referendum sponsors did not meet the applicable statutory requirements and because the Utah House of Representatives and the Utah Senate passed the bill by a supermajority, which made the bill referendum-proof. Petitioners subsequently brought this petition. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, holding (1) the Governor did not effectively veto Provision 2, and the Two-Thirds Provisions of the Utah Constitution and Utah Code applied to the legislation here; and (2) the rest of the petition is dismissed without prejudice for failure to comply with Rule 19. View "Grant v. Governor Gary R. Herbert" on Justia Law

by
In this case involving two resolutions that would enable Ivory Development, LLC to develop land on which the old Cottonwood Mall once stood the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court that Resolution 2018-16 was referable and Resolution 2018-17 was not referable, holding that the district court did not err in finding that the City of Holladay was exercising its legislative powers when it approved Resolution 2018-16 and was exercising its administrative powers when it approved Resolution 2018-17.In May 2018, the City approved the two resolutions at issue. Thereafter, a group of citizens from Holladay petitioned to subject the Resolutions to a public vote by referendum. The district court ordered that the City place only the referendum petition on Resolution 2018-16 on the ballot. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Resolution 2018-16 is legislative in nature and therefore referable; and (2) Resolution 2018-17 is administrative in nature and therefore not referable. View "Baker v. Carlson" on Justia Law

by
This opinion followed the Supreme Court’s August 30, 2017 summary order denying Petitioners’ petition for extraordinary relief filed pursuant to Utah Code 20A-7-508(6)(a) pertaining to certain aspects of a final ballot title. Petitioners were among a group of sponsors who obtained sufficient signatures to have an initiative placed on the November 2017 ballot for the Pleasant Grove City municipal election. The City attorney prepared the final ballot title, which led to this petition being filed. The Supreme Court denied the petition, holding that Petitioners failed to satisfy their burden under Utah R. App. P. 19 of demonstrating that they possessed no plain, speedy, and adequate remedy other than the filing of a petition directly with the Supreme Court. View "Zonts v. Pleasant Grove City" on Justia Law

by
Melvin Brown, who lost his Republic Primary election for the Utah House of Representatives by nine votes, contested the results of the primary election under Utah Code 20A-4-403(2) - Utah’s election contest statute - arguing that certain ballots were improperly disqualified. Logan Wilde, the winner of the primary election, argued that the election contest statute is an unconstitutional expansion of the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction. The Supreme Court agreed and issued a per curiam order holding that Utah Code 20A-4-403(2)(a)(ii), which purports to provide the Supreme Court with original jurisdiction over multi-county election contests, was unconstitutional. The Court then issued this opinion to more fully explain the basis for the order, holding that section 20A-4-403(2)(a)(ii) cannot extend the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to adjudicate multi-county election disputes, and that provision of the elections code is struck as unconstitutional. View "Brown v. Cox" on Justia Law

by
Residents of Orem City and Provo City (collectively, Petitioners) sought to have a referendum placed on the November 2017 ballot. Both Orem City and Provo City refused, concluding that the resolutions could not be referred to the voters as a matter of law. Petitioners sought an extraordinary writ ordering that the referenda be placed on the ballot and filed their petitions in accordance with Utah Code 20A-7-607(4)(a). The Supreme Court denied the petitions without prejudice, holding that Petitioners failed to carry their burden of establishing under Utah R. App. P. 19(b)(4)-(5) that it would be impractical or inappropriate for them to file their petitions in the district court. View "Anderson v. Provo City" on Justia Law

by
The United States District Court for the District of Utah certified questions of law to the Supreme Court regarding Qualified Political Parties (QPP). The first question asked whether Utah law requires that a QPP permit its members to seek its nomination by either or both of the methods set forth in Utah Code 20A-9-407 and 20A-9-408 or whether a QPP may preclude a member from seeking the party’s nomination by gathering signatures under section 20A-9-408. The second question asked whether the Lieutenant Governor must treat a registered political party (RPP) that has selected to be designated as a QPP as a RPP under Utah law. The Supreme Court answered (1) Utah Code 20A-9-101 requires that QPP party members may choose the method of candidacy qualification; and (2) the certified question regarding the Lieutenant Governor’s obligations is hypothetical and not ripe for decision. View "Utah Republican Party v. Cox" on Justia Law

by
Petitioners, as members of Utah Term Limits NOW!, sponsored an initiative application in which Petitioners sought to initiate legislation imposing term limits on persons appointed by the Governor to state boards and commissions. The Lieutenant Governor rejected the initiative application. Petitioners filed a petition for extraordinary writ asking the Supreme Court to compel the Lieutenant Governor to rescind and withdraw his rejection of Petitioners’ application. After filing their petition, Petitioners ceased efforts to place the proposed initiative on the ballot. Thereafter, the Lieutenant Governor filed a suggestion of mootness. In response, Petitioners asked the Court to resolve the issues based on the “public interest” exception to the mootness doctrine. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition for extraordinary writ as moot and held that the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine did not apply in this case. View "Poulton v. Cox" on Justia Law