Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
by
The Supreme Court declared the issue of partisan gerrymandering a nonjusticiable political question in “Rucho,” in 2019. Michigan had already established its Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission by ballot initiative in the state’s 2018 general election. The Commission is composed of 13 registered voters: eight who affiliate with the state’s two major political parties (four per party) and five who are unaffiliated with those parties, who must satisfy various eligibility criteria designed to ensure that they lack certain political ties. Plaintiffs are Michigan citizens who allege that they are unconstitutionally excluded from serving on the Commission by its eligibility criteria, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of their complaint. Plaintiffs do not have a federal constitutional right to be considered for the Commission. While at least some of the partisan activities enumerated by the eligibility criteria involve the exercise of constitutionally protected interests, Michigan’s compelling interest in cleansing its redistricting process of partisan influence justifies the limited burden imposed by the eligibility criteria. Although claims of unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering may be nonjusticiable, Michigan is free to employ its political process to address the issue head-on. View "Daunt v. Benson" on Justia Law

by
Michigan allows independent candidates for statewide office to be placed on the general election ballot if the candidate submits a “qualifying petition,” with at least 30,000 valid signatures, submitted no later than “the one hundred-tenth day before the general election,” signed by at least 100 registered voters in each of at least half of Michigan’s 14 congressional districts. Signatures must be obtained within 180 days of the filing deadline. The filing deadline for the November 2018 election was July 19, 2018. The official process for an independent candidate trying to run for attorney general in that election began in January 2018. Major political parties do not choose attorney general candidates by primary election, but at conventions, “not less than 60 days before" the general election. The Republican and Democratic Parties held their nominating conventions in August 2018. Graveline began his attempt to qualify for the ballot in June 2018. Graveline served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney; the Hatch Act required him to resign before formally filing as a candidate for an elected office. Graveline collected 14,157 signatures, using 1,000 hours of volunteer time and spending $38,000. The state rejected his petition.The district court enjoined the enforcement of the statute as violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments and implemented an interim requirement allowing independent candidates to qualify for statewide offices by submitting a qualifying petition with 12,000 signatures. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The challenged provisions, in combination, impose a severe burden on the constitutional rights of independent candidates and their potential voter-supporters. The provisions are not narrowly drawn to advance compelling state interests. The district court did not abuse its discretion in crafting its remedy. View "Graveline v. Benson" on Justia Law

by
Schwamberger, a former deputy director of the Marion County Board of Elections sued the Board and its former director, Meyer, asserting, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, that the defendants’ actions constituted First Amendment retaliation, violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, and violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Each Ohio County Board of Elections must have four members divided equally between the two major parties. The deputy director (Schwamberger) and the director (Meyer) are always members of opposite political parties, R.C. 3501.091, and deputy directors serve at the pleasure of their county boards. Schwamberger was terminated for impermissibly commenting on the election process, and therefore on policy and political issues related to her deputy-director position, after attempting to complain about errors in the 2018 election to the Board.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Schwamberger’s suit. Schwamberger’s speech proximately caused her termination but that speech implicated policy concerns; she was a policymaking employee, so her speech was unprotected. Schwamberger has not demonstrated a property interest in her position. Under Ohio law, she was an at-will employee who served at the pleasure of the Board. Even if the Board did act “arbitrarily” regarding her discharge, its actions do not create a constitutional claim. View "Schwamberger v. Marion County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

by
Ohio law mandates that the Ohio Elections Commission (OEC) be composed of three members from each of the top two political parties in the state, and an additional seventh member who cannot have any political affiliation, Ohio Rev. Code 3517.152(A)(1). The Libertarian Party of Ohio and its former chairman challenged the law as violating their First Amendment right to associate for political purposes.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of the suit. The court applied the unconstitutional-conditions doctrine, which prevents the government from denying a benefit on the basis of a person’s constitutionally protected speech or associations. Under precedent involving government employment, the issue is “whether the hiring authority can demonstrate that party affiliation is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office involved.” OEC Commissioners fall within the category of positions that are filled by balancing out political party representation, or that are filled by balancing out selections made by different governmental agents or bodies. It is “appropriate” for Ohio to consider political affiliation to serve its stated interest in maintaining partisan balance among the members of the OEC. View "Libertarian Party of Ohio v. Wilhem" on Justia Law

by
Voter-advocacy organizations challenged Michigan statutes regulating absentee ballots and mandating that no one “hire a motor vehicle or other conveyance or cause the same to be done, for conveying voters, other than voters physically unable to walk, to an election." Michigan Attorney General Nessel was the named defendant; permissive intervenor status was granted to both houses of the Michigan Legislature, and the Republican Party. The court rejected challenges to the absentee-ballot statute but preliminarily enjoined enforcement of the voter-transportation law. When the intervenors sought an emergency stay of the injunction pending appeal, Nessel declined to take a position. The district court denied the intervenors’ motion.The Sixth Circuit granted an emergency stay. The legislature has standing to appeal. The state statute is likely not preempted by federal law, the Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. 30143. The balance of equities weighs in favor of staying the order. The harm to the legislature without a stay would be irreparable: election day will only happen once, and the legislature will lose its ability to regulate paid voter transportation for that election. The harm to the voter-advocacy organizations appears modest. There are other ways, without violating Michigan’s statute, to take voters to the polls. With the expansion of mailed ballots in Michigan, there are likely fewer voters who need to be driven to the polls. The public interest lies in elections conducted with a minimum of fraud and in free elections, in which as many eligible voters can vote as desire to. View "Priorities USA v. Nessel" on Justia Law

by
Organizations involved in voter outreach in Tennessee and one individual Tennessee voter sued Tennessee government officials involved in election enforcement, challenging the Tennessee statutory scheme that governs absentee voting. On September 9, the district court granted a preliminary injunction, prohibiting the enforcement of Tenn. Code 2-2-115(b)(7), which prevents individuals who registered to vote by submitting a registration form online or by mail from voting absentee during the first election after they had registered.The Sixth Circuit denied a motion to stay that injunction. Disrupting the new rules at this point would pose a significant risk of harm to the public interest in orderly elections, while there is no substantial harm to defendants in continuing to comply with rules they are currently following. The defendants did not file their appeal of the preliminary injunction until nearly one month after it went into effect. During the period between September 9, the day of issuance of the preliminary injunction, and October 15, the day the plaintiffs’ response was filed, both absentee voting and early in-person voting had begun in Tennessee. View "Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute v. Hargett" on Justia Law

by
Tennessee voters must apply to vote absentee. The county administrator of elections determines whether the voter has established eligibility to vote absentee, and compares the signature of the voter on the request with the signature on the voter’s registration record. Voters who qualify to vote absentee receive a ballot, an inner envelope and an outer envelope, and instructions. The inner envelope has an affidavit; the voter must verify that he is eligible to vote in the election. The ballot must be received no later than when the polls close. Upon receipt by mail of the absentee ballot, the administrator "shall open only the outer envelope and compare the voter’s signature on the [affidavit] with the voter’s signature" on the registration record. If the administrator determines the signatures do not match, the ballot is rejected; the voter is “immediately” notified in writing. Voters who are concerned that their absentee ballot might be rejected may cast a provisional ballot before being notified of a rejection.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction to prohibit the enforcement of the signature verification procedures. The plaintiffs cannot cite with certainty or specification any past erroneous rejection of an absentee ballot; their speculative allegations of harm are insufficient to establish standing. The plaintiffs have not demonstrated that anyone whose ballot may be erroneously rejected will ultimately be unable to vote, either absentee or by provisional ballot; there is no evidence that anyone’s constitutional rights are likely to be infringed. View "Memphis A. Philip Randolph Institute v. Hargett" on Justia Law

by
Kishore and Santa Cruz seek to have their names placed on the Michigan ballot as candidates for president and vice president, without complying with the state’s ballot-access laws. They contend that the ballot-access requirements, as applied, are unconstitutionally burdensome under the First and Fourteenth Amendments when enforced alongside Michigan’s orders restricting in-person gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court in denying injunctive relief. On balance, the state’s well-established and legitimate interests in administering its own elections through candidate-eligibility and ballot-access requirements outweigh the intermediate burden imposed on the Plaintiffs. The court noted that previous litigation reduced the number of signatures required for independent candidates. The Plaintiffs had the opportunity to collect signatures with no restriction from the beginning of their campaign (January 18) to the date of Governor Whitmer’s first Stay-at-Home Order (March 23) and again from the date of the reopening orders (June 1) to the filing deadline (July 16). In all this time, the Plaintiffs have not obtained a single signature on their qualifying petition. View "Kishore v. Whitmer" on Justia Law

by
Two plaintiffs sought to qualify to run as independent candidates for President of the United States in the 2020 election. Ohio law requires them to file a nominating petition with at least 5,000 signatures of qualified Ohio electors by August 5, 2020. Each individual circulating petitions for an independent candidate must sign a statement stating that they witnessed the signature. Other plaintiffs sought to gather signatures to nominate candidates for the November 2020 election and to form the Green Party as a minor political party under Ohio law. To attain that status, the Party must file a party formation petition by June 30, 2020, with signatures collected in person.The plaintiffs’ signature collection efforts were ongoing until the beginning of the pandemic. Ohio began issuing orders that restricted person-to-person contact, first prohibiting gatherings of 100 or more people then limiting gatherings to 50 people. On March 22, the state issued an order requiring Ohioans to stay at home. Each of the orders contained an explicit exception for conduct protected by the First Amendment. On April 30, as the stay-at-home order eased, Ohio continued to prohibit most “public and private gatherings,” but explicitly excepted First Amendment protected speech, including “petition and referendum circulators.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The ballot-access requirements, as applied, are not unconstitutionally burdensome in light of the orders restricting in-person gatherings. View "Hawkins v. DeWine" on Justia Law

by
The Plaintiffs claimed that Ohio’s COVID-19 restrictions and stay-at-home orders have made it impossibly difficult for them to meet existing requirements for initiatives to secure a place on the November ballot, in violation of their First Amendment rights. An Ohio petition for a referendum must include signatures from 10 percent of the applicable jurisdiction’s electors that voted in the last gubernatorial election, each signature must “be written in ink,” and the initiative’s circulator must witness each signature. The initiative’s proponents must submit these signatures to the Secretary of State 125 days before the election for a constitutional amendment and 110 days before the election for a municipal ordinance. Ohio’s officials postponed the Ohio primary election but declined to further modify state election law. The district court granted a preliminary injunction, imposing a new deadline and prescribing the type of signature that the state must accept. The Sixth Circuit granted a stay of the injunction. Ohio’s compelling and well-established interests in administering its ballot initiative regulations outweigh the intermediate burden those regulations place on the plaintiffs. Ohio specifically exempted conduct protected by the First Amendment from its stay-home orders; the court means by which petitioners could obtain signatures. By unilaterally modifying the Ohio Constitution’s ballot initiative regulations, the district court usurped this authority from Ohio electors. View "Thompson v. DeWine" on Justia Law