Articles Posted in Election Law

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North Carolina redistricted state legislative districts. Plaintiffs alleged that the General Assembly racially gerrymandered their districts in an ostensible effort to comply with the Voting Rights Act; 28 districts comprised majorities of black voters. The Supreme Court affirmed judgment for the plaintiffs but vacated the district court’s remedial order, which directed the General Assembly to adopt new districting maps, shortened by one year the terms of the legislators currently serving the gerrymandered districts, called for special elections in those districts, and suspended two provisions of the state Constitution. On remand, the district court ordered the General Assembly to draw remedial maps. The General Assembly complied, directing its map drawers to make “[r]easonable efforts . . . to avoid pairing incumbent members” and not to use “[d]ata identifying the race of individuals or voters.” The plaintiffs argued that four legislative districts still segregated voters on the basis of race and objected to redrawing five districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties, which did not violate the Constitution, and did not abut a district violating the Constitution, so that the revision of the borders constituted mid-decade redistricting in violation of the North Carolina Constitution. The district court appointed a Special Master to redraw the lines of the districts and ultimately adopted the Master’s recommended reconfiguration; the court credited the Master’s submission that his “‘remedial districts were drawn not with any racial target in mind, but in order to maximize compactness, preserve precinct boundaries, and respect political subdivision lines,’” and that the map was the product of “‘explicitly race-neutral criteria.’” The Supreme Court first rejected an argument that gerrymandering claims ceased to exist when the General Assembly enacted remedial plans and repealed the old plans. It is the segregation of the plaintiffs, not the legislature’s line-drawing, that gives rise to their claims. The court did not abuse its discretion by arranging for the Special Master to draw up a remedial map instead of giving the General Assembly another chance nor by adopting the Special Master’s recommended remedy. While the 2017 legislature instructed its map drawers not to look at race, the district court engaged in detailed, fact-finding and found sufficient circumstantial evidence that race was the predominant factor governing the shape of the districts. The court’s allowance that the Special Master could “consider data identifying the race of individuals or voters to the extent necessary to ensure that his plan cures the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders,” does not amount to a warrant for “racial quotas.” The Court affirmed with respect to four districts but reversed with respect to districts in Wake and Mecklenburg Counties, which was unrelated to racially gerrymandered districts. View "North Carolina v. Covington" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Texas adopted a new congressional districting plan and new districting maps for the state legislature. The Equal Protection Clause forbids “racial gerrymandering,” but Texas is also subject to section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which is violated when a state districting plan provides “less opportunity” for racial minorities “to elect representatives of their choice.” Texas was also subject to section 5, which barred it from making any districting changes unless it could prove that they did not result in retrogression with respect to the ability of racial minorities to elect the candidates of their choice. The plan was challenged in a Texas district court. Texas submitted the plans for preclearance to the District of Columbia Circuit. For the upcoming primaries, the Supreme Court instructed the Texas court to start with the 2011 plans and make adjustments required by the Constitution and the VRA. The Texas court adopted new interim plans, which, after the D.C. Circuit denied preclearance, were used for the 2012 elections. The state repealed the 2011 plans and enacted the Texas court’s plans with minor modifications. After the Supreme Court’s 2013 "Shelby County" holding, Texas, no longer covered by section 5, obtained a vacatur of the preclearance order. The Texas court allowed a challenge to the 2013 plans and held that challenges to the 2011 plans remained live. Texas conducted its 2014 and 2016 elections under the 2013 plans. In 2017, the Texas court found defects in several districts in the 2011 federal congressional and State House plans; invalidated multiple Congressional and House Districts in the 2013 plans, holding that the Legislature failed to cure the “taint” of discriminatory intent allegedly harbored by the 2011 Legislature; held that three districts were invalid because they had the effect of depriving Latinos of the equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice; found that HD90 was a racial gerrymander; and gave the state attorney general three days to respond. Assuming jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1253, the Court concluded that the orders qualify as interlocutory injunctions; the short time frame the attorney general was given indicated that the court did not intend to allow the elections to go ahead under the plans it had condemned. The Texas court erred in requiring the state to show that the 2013 Legislature purged the “taint” attributed to the never-used plans enacted by a prior legislature. The “good faith of [the] state legislature must be presumed.” The 2011 Legislature’s intent and the court’s interim plans, weighed with other evidence, “is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.” The Court reversed as to the three districts in which the Texas court relied on section 2’s “effects” test but affirmed that HD90 is a racial gerrymander. For a section 2 “effects” claim, a plaintiff must establish a geographically compact minority population sufficient to constitute a majority in a single-member district, political cohesion among the members of the minority group, bloc voting by the majority to defeat the minority’s preferred candidate, and that the district lines dilute the votes of the minority group. View "Abbott v. Perez" on Justia Law

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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

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North Carolina redrew Congressional Districts 1 and 12 after the 2010 census. Previously, neither district had a majority black voting-age population (BVAP), but both consistently elected candidates preferred by most African-American voters. The state needed to add 100,000 people to District 1 to comply with the one-person-one-vote principle; it took most of them from heavily black areas of Durham—increasing the district’s BVAP from 48.6% to 52.7%. District 12’s BVAP increased from 43.8% to 50.7%. State courts upheld the redistricting. The district court found it unconstitutional. The Supreme Court affirmed. Although the state court’s decision is relevant, the district court properly concluded that race furnished the predominant rationale for District 1’s redesign and that compliance with the Voting Rights Act could not justify that consideration of race, which subordinated other criteria. The redistricting cannot withstand strict scrutiny under the “Gingles” factors. For nearly 20 years, African-Americans made up less than a majority of District 1’s voters, but their preferred candidates scored victories. District 1 was a “crossover” district, in which members of the majority help a “large enough” minority to elect its candidate. History gave the state no reason to think that the Act required it to ramp up District 1’s BVAP. The evidence, even without an alternative map, adequately supported the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for District 12’s reconfiguration. “By slimming the district and adding a couple of knobs to its snakelike body, North Carolina added 35,000 African-Americans and subtracted 50,000 whites, turning District 12 into a majority-minority district,” indicating a determination to concentrate black voters. View "Cooper v. Harris" on Justia Law

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After the 2010 census, the Virginia Legislature drew new lines for 12 state legislative districts, to ensure that each district would have a black voting-age population of at least 55%. Voters challenged the redistricting under the Equal Protection Clause. As to 11 districts, the district court concluded that the voters had not shown that race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision, reasoning that race predominates only where there is an “actual conflict between traditional redistricting criteria and race.” As to District 75, the court found that race did predominate, but the use of race was narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest--avoiding violation of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court vacated in part, stating that the proper inquiry concerns the actual considerations that provided the essential basis for the lines drawn, not post hoc justifications. A legislature could construct a plethora of potential maps that look consistent with traditional, race-neutral principles, but if race is the overriding reason for choosing a map, race still may predominate. Challengers may establish racial predominance without evidence of an actual conflict. A holistic analysis is necessary to give the proper weight to districtwide evidence, such as stark splits in the racial composition of populations moved into and out of a district, or the use of a racial target. The judgment regarding District 75 is consistent with the basic narrow tailoring analysis; the state’s interest in complying with the Voting Rights Act was a compelling interest and the legislature had sufficient grounds to determine that the race-based calculus it employed was necessary to avoid violating the Act. View "Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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Voters from Virginia’s Congressional District 3 challenged the Commonwealth’s 2013 congressional redistricting plan on the ground that the legislature’s redrawing of their district was unconstitutional racial gerrymander. Three members of Congress from Virginia intervened to defend the plan. The district court struck down the plan and, after remand from the Supreme Court, again held that the plan was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court dismissed a second appeal for lack of standing. A party invoking federal court jurisdiction can establish Article III standing only by showing that he has suffered an “injury in fact,” that the injury is “fairly traceable” to the challenged conduct, and that the injury is likely to be “redressed” by a favorable decision. , Representative Forbes, the Republican incumbent in District 4, has decided to run in District 2, regardless of the litigation's outcome; even if Forbes had standing when he first intervened, he does not have standing now. Representatives Wittman and Brat, the incumbents in Districts 1 and 7, respectively, have not identified any record evidence to support their allegation that the redistricting plan has harmed their prospects of reelection. The allegation of an injury, without more, is not sufficient to satisfy Article III. View "Wittman v. Personhuballah" on Justia Law