Justia Election Law Opinion Summaries
Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court
In this case, a Vermont voter and candidate in the state’s 2016 presidential primary, challenged whether U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were constitutionally qualified to run for President of the United States. The trial court dismissed the suit on the grounds that appellant lacked standing and the court lacked jurisdiction to assess the qualifications of the Senators to run for president. Appellant appealed both holdings, but the Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal for a different reason: the case was now moot. View "Paige v. Vermont" on Justia Law
Petitioners Representative Donald Turner, Jr. and Senator Joseph Benning, sought to enjoin respondent Governor Peter Shumlin (whose last day in office was January 5, 2017), from appointing a successor to the office held by Associate Justice John Dooley, whose term was set to expire April 1, 2017. Justice Dooley did not file a declaration with the Office of the Secretary of State indicating that he would seek retention for another term beyond March 31, 2017, the last day of his then-current six-year term. On December 21, 2016, Representative Turner filed a petition for quo warranto contesting the Governor's authority to appoint Justice Dooley's successor, asserting that although the Vermont Constitution authorized the Governor to fill a vacancy on the Court, no vacancy would exist until Justice Dooley left office nearly three months after Governor Shumlin left his office. The Supreme Court concluded that the Vermont Constitution did not authorize the Governor to appoint an Associate Justice in anticipation of a vacancy that was not expected to occur until the expiration of the justice's term of office, which would occur months after the Governor left office. "In so holding, we emphasize that our decision today rests entirely upon the meaning and purpose of the Vermont Constitution. We reach our decision having in mind the overarching principles of our democracy: the integrity of our governing institutions and the people's confidence in them. The particular identity of the parties or potential nominees to the Office of Associate Justice have no bearing on our decision. Our sole responsibility in this, as in any, case is to apply the law evenhandedly, regardless of the identity of the litigants, the sensitivity of the issues, or the passing political interests of the moment." View "Turner v. Shumlin" on Justia Law
Prior to a March 3, 2015 town meeting, plaintiffs submitted three separate petitions to amend the Brattleboro town charter. Among other things, the petitions sought to: (1) allow residents sixteen and older to vote at town meetings; (2) allow voters to seek a referendum on articles authorizing the Town to spend more than $2 million; (3) limit the terms of town meeting representatives;1 (4) hold the elections of town representatives and town officials in November rather than March; (5) require employers within the Town to provide two hours paid leave for employees to vote at town meetings; and (6) have the town grand juror enforce the minimum wage and function as a district attorney for the Town. An "information sheet" was prepared by the selectboard, then emailed to town meeting representatives, the media, selectboard members, town staff, and a few other persons who requested it. Among other things, the information sheet stated that: (1) setting term limits would be “anti-democratic” in that it would “ban Brattleboro residents from [t]own meeting[s] because they had attended six years in a row”; (2) moving elections from March to November “would damage the link between . . . important parts of government and leave Brattleboro out of step with the rest of Vermont”; (3) requiring employers to provide paid leave for employees to attend town meetings “would mandate Brattleboro employers to pay employees to attend town meetings in other towns and states” and would impact “Brattleboro residents [who] already face very steep property taxes”; (4) giving powers to the town grand juror, which “is essentially obsolete in this modern era,” is unnecessary “because enforcement of laws and ordinances is handled by other elected officials and clear structures”; and (5) “setting separate rules for voter review of budget items over $2 million is confusing and arbitrary.” On March 3, 2015, town voters defeated the three petitions. Plaintiffs appealed a superior court order granting the Town summary judgment with respect to plaintiffs’ lawsuit claiming that the town selectboard unlawfully interfered (by way of the information sheet) with an election on their petitions to amend the town charter. Finding no reversible error in the superior court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Daims v. Town of Brattleboro" on Justia Law
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case centered on whether Vermont’s nominating petition process for independent candidates for President of the United States unduly burdened the rights of such candidates and their supporters under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Upon review, the Court concluded that the trial court correctly held that it does and affirmed the trial court’s judgment for plaintiffs Ross “Rocky” Anderson, an independent candidate for President in the 2012 election and his campaign coordinator, plaintiff Benjamin Eastwood. Plaintiffs gathered 1400 signatures from at least twenty-two towns and cities. However, supporters were delayed and ultimately frustrated in their nomination efforts by the Secretary of State’s interpretation of 17 V.S.A. 2402. As a result, plaintiffs were only able to get town clerk certification for 580 signatures before a June 14 deadline. The trial court concluded that overall, the statute appeared to be a reasonable regulation of elections. Nonetheless, the trial court denied the State’s motion to dismiss and granted plaintiffs permanent injunctive relief on the ground that the Secretary of State’s requirement that town clerks certify only names listed on original statements (as opposed to faxes or photocopies of those statements) unduly burdened plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The trial court denied plaintiffs’ request that the court eliminate the certification requirement altogether. The State appealed, arguing that the “original statement” requirement serves important state interests and imposes only a minor burden on plaintiffs’ rights. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the Secretary of State’s requirement that town clerks certify only original statements when performing their function pursuant to 17 V.S.A. 2402(a)(4) unconstitutionally burdened plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. Therefore, the Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment and permanent injunction for plaintiffs. View "Anderson v. Vermont " on Justia Law
Independent candidate Gary Trudell and voter Myron Dorfman challenged the constitutionality of Vermont’s schedule for filing candidate petitions, alleging that the uniform deadline for all party (major and minor) and independent candidates was discriminatory and impermissibly impinged upon the associational and voting rights of candidates and voters under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Because the Supreme Court concluded that the filing deadline was a reasonable, nondiscriminatory regulation, justified by Vermont’s regulatory interests, the Court affirmed the lower court decision declaring the deadline constitutional. View "Trudell v. Vermont " on Justia Law
In 2008, Plaintiff Timothy Price filed a pro se complaint in the Superior Court seeking access to the ballots and tally sheets from the November, 2006 election from the town clerk âbefore they are in any way tampered with or destroyed.â The Town of Fairlee moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the time to contest an election or ask for a recount had long since passed. The trial court reviewed Plaintiffâs complaint and concluded that Plaintiff was really requesting public records under the stateâs Public Records Act (PRA). The trial court noted that state law required the town clerk to retain all election materials for a 90-day period following an election, and authorized the clerk to destroy those materials after the 90 days passed. The court reasoned that destruction of the election materials had rendered the case moot since it could not grant the relief Plaintiff requested. Plaintiff then submitted a request to the Town for the election records pursuant to the PRA. This time the Town denied the request, saying the records were not subject to the PRA because the records had been destroyed. Taking the matter to court again, the Town moved to dismiss Plaintiffâs request as moot. This time, however, the trial court denied the Townâs motion to dismiss, holding that the records fell into an exception to the mootness doctrine, for actions âcapable of repetition, yet evading review.â The Town then moved for summary judgment, arguing that the election materials had to be âsecurely sealedâ if they hadnât already been destroyed, and were not available for public disclosure. The court granted the Townâs motion. On appeal, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court was correct to entertain Plaintiffâs petition, but erred in ruling that the election records requested were exempt from disclosure under the PRA and erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the Town. Accordingly, the Court reversed the lower courtâs decision.