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

Articles Posted in Election Law
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Electors voted to establish a commission of citizens to adopt district boundaries for the Michigan Senate, Michigan House of Representatives and U.S. Congress, every 10 years. Article IV, section 6 of the amended Michigan Constitution establishes the membership criteria for this “independent citizens redistricting commission,” excluding eight classes of individuals with certain current or past political ties. A final decision to adopt a redistricting plan requires a majority vote, including at least two commissioners who affiliate with each major party, and at least two who do not affiliate with either party. Commission members may not discuss redistricting matters outside of an open meeting, except under specific circumstances. The Republican Party and individuals sought a preliminary injunction, alleging that the eligibility criteria violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments; that allowing applicants to self-identify as Republicans violated the Party’s freedom of association; that the Commission’s composition was viewpoint-discriminatory; and that the speech provision violated the First Amendment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. The Amendment’s eligibility criteria do not burden the plaintiffs based on their status as Republicans. Even if the criteria imposed a moderate burden on First Amendment activities, they would satisfy a “flexible analysis.” There is no constitutional limitation on Michigan making the forbearance from certain activities a condition of sitting on the commission. The eligibility criteria are essential to the definition of this Commission and its independence from partisan meddling. The Party does not have a First Amendment right to control the self-affiliation of commissioner-applicants. Although the speech provision does burden the commissioners’ freedom to speak about redistricting, this burden is outweighed by Michigan’s more-than-adequate justifications. Michigan’s effort to ensure that a sizeable minority of commission members are non-affiliated does not violate the First Amendment. View "Daunt v. Benson" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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Any Ohio registered voter may cast an absentee ballot, starting about a month before election day, but the state requires voters to request an absentee ballot by noon, three days before election day. The lone exception is for unexpectedly hospitalized electors, who may request an absentee ballot until 3 p.m. on election day. Police arrested the plaintiffs the weekend before election day 2018. Foreseeing their confinement through the upcoming election, they sued for access to absentee ballots on behalf of themselves and a class of similar individuals, with an Equal Protection claim, challenging the disparate treatment of hospital-confined and jail-confined electors, and a First Amendment claim. The trial court permitted the plaintiffs to vote in November 2018 but declined to extend that relief to the class. The district court then granted the plaintiffs summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The burden on the plaintiffs’ right to vote is intermediate, somewhere “between slight and severe.” They are not totally denied a chance to vote by Ohio’s absentee ballot deadlines, so the laws survive if the state’s justifications outweigh this moderate burden. The state identified several counties that do not have adequate resources to process late absentee ballot requests from unexpectedly jail-confined electors without foregoing other duties necessary to ensure the orderly administration of Ohio’s elections. View "Mays v. LaRose" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs sued, alleging that, in future elections, the defendants (various officials) will burden their right to vote, dilute their votes, and disenfranchise them in violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. The plaintiffs cited election administration problems: election workers are poorly trained, sometimes distributing the wrong ballots, sometimes recording the wrong address when registering a voter; failure to recertify the voting machines; failure to follow fair protocols for uploading votes; the use of digital voting machines, vulnerable to hacking and cyberattacks, that do not produce a paper record of each voter’s choices. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The complaint’s allegations with respect to injury all reference prior system vulnerabilities, previous equipment malfunctions, and past election mistakes; nearly all of the allegations of past harm stem from human error rather than errors caused by the voting machines or hacking. Fear that individual mistakes will recur, generally speaking, does not create a cognizable imminent risk of harm. The plaintiffs do not allege that Shelby County election officials always make these mistakes or that the government entities ordered the election workers to make such mistakes. The plaintiffs have not plausibly shown that there is a substantial risk of vote flipping. Without imminent harm, the individual plaintiffs have no standing to sue. The plaintiffs allege only policies that add risk to the ever-present possibility that an election worker will make a mistake. View "Shelby Advocates for Valid Elections v. Hargett" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs submitted proposed ballot initiatives to the Portage County Board of Elections that would effectively decriminalize marijuana possession in Garrettsville and Windham, Ohio. The Board declined to certify the proposed initiatives, concluding that the initiatives fell outside the scope of the municipalities’ legislative authority. Plaintiffs sued, asserting that the statutes governing Ohio’s municipal ballot-initiative process impose a prior restraint on their political speech, violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court permanently enjoined the Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State, from enforcing the statutes in any manner that failed to provide for adequate judicial review. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction. A person or party may express beliefs or ideas through a ballot, but ballots serve primarily to elect candidates, not as forums for political expression. Heightened procedural requirements imposed on systems of prior restraint are inappropriate in the context of ballot-initiative preclearance regulations. The court applied the “Anderson-Burdick” framework and weighted the character and magnitude of the burden the state’s rule against the interests the state contends justify that burden and considered the extent to which the state’s concerns make the burden necessary. The state affords aggrieved ballot-initiative proponents adequate procedural rights through the availability of mandamus relief in the state courts. View "Schmitt v. LaRose" on Justia Law

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An incumbent Kentucky state senator and an unsuccessful state candidate sued, alleging that Kentucky statutes violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. One (now defunct) campaign finance provision restricted the amount a candidate could loan to his campaign. The challenged ethics provisions prohibit a legislator, candidate for the legislature, or his campaign committee from accepting a campaign contribution from a lobbyist; prohibit a legislator, candidate, or his campaign committee from accepting a campaign contribution from an employer of a lobbyist or a political committee (PAC) during a regular session of the General Assembly; prohibit a legislator or his spouse from accepting “anything of value” from a lobbyist or his employer; and prohibit a lobbyist from serving as a campaign treasurer, and directly soliciting, controlling, or delivering a campaign contribution to a legislator or candidate. The district court dismissed the campaign finance claim as moot but found that the ethics laws burdened “core political speech” and curtailed freedom of association, requiring strict scrutiny. The court upheld the regular session contribution ban but found the other challenged ethics provisions unconstitutional. The Sixth Circuit affirmed with respect to the “regular session” ban but otherwise vacated and reversed. Kentucky’s legislature acted to protect itself and its citizens from corruption; these laws are closely drawn to further Kentucky’s anti-corruption interest and pass constitutional muster. View "Schickel v. Dilger" on Justia Law

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In October 2014, Kentucky Educational Television (KET) hosted a debate between the candidates for one of Kentucky’s seats in the U.S. Senate. KET limited the debate to candidates who qualified for the ballot, had collected at least $100,000 in campaign contributions, and had an independent poll indicating that at least one in 10 Kentuckians planned to vote for them. The criteria excluded Patterson, the Libertarian Party candidate. The district court rejected a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 by Patterson and the Party, noting that, with relatively few limits, KET could invite to its debates whomever it wanted. KET was not required to create—let alone publish—any criteria at all. KET restricted who could appear in a televised debate, not on the ballot. The debate criteria had nothing to do with a candidate’s views; rather, they measured whether voters had shown an objective interest in hearing the candidate. View "Libertarian National Committee, Inc. v. Holiday" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged the validity of Ohio’s confirmation notices under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), 52 U.S.C 20507(b)(2). The district court denied plaintiffs a permanent injunction, except as regards a requirement that Ohio continue to use a confirmation notice with information for voters moving out of state on how to remain eligible to vote. Plaintiffs moved to enjoin Ohio, pending appeal, to implement the APRI Exception in the November 2018 election and not to remove any voter by the Supplemental Process if the voter was sent a confirmation notice before 2016. The APRI Exception requires Boards to count provisional ballots cast by voters purged under the Supplemental Process in 2011-2015 if the voter: cast the ballot at their early voting location or at the correct polling location on Election Day; continues to reside in the county where they were previously registered; and did not become ineligible by reason of felony conviction, mental incapacity, or death after the date on which their name was removed. The Sixth Circuit granted an emergency injunction pending appeal, requiring the implementation of the APRI Exception. Plaintiffs have a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the confirmation notice did not adequately advise registrants of the consequences of failure to respond, as the NVRA requires. The court denied an injunction that Ohio not delete any voters from the rolls under the Supplemental Process if the confirmation notice was sent before 2016. View "A. Philip Randolph Institute v. Husted" on Justia Law

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During a campaign rally at Louisville’s Kentucky International Convention Center, then-candidate Trump spoke for 35 minutes. Plaintiffs attended the rally with the intention of peacefully protesting. Protesters’ actions during Trump’s video-recorded address precipitated directions from Trump on five different occasions to “get ’em out of here.” Members of the audience assaulted, pushed and shoved plaintiffs. Plaintiff Brousseau was punched in the stomach. Defendants Heimbach and Bamberger participated in the assaults. Plaintiffs sued Trump, the campaign, Heimbach, Bamberger, and an unknown woman who punched Brousseau, for battery, assault, incitement to riot, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness. The district court dismissed claims against the Trump defendants alleging they were vicariously liable for the actions of Heimbach, Bamberger and the unknown woman, and dismissed a negligent-speech theory as “incompatible with the First Amendment” but refused to dismiss the incitement-to-riot claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit found that the claim should be dismissed. Plaintiffs have not stated a valid claim under Kentucky law, given the elements of “incitement to riot.” Trump’s speech enjoys First Amendment protection because he did not specifically advocate imminent lawless action. Trump’s “get ’em out of here” statement, closely followed by, “Don’t hurt ’em,” cannot be interpreted as advocating a riot or the use of any violence. View "Nwanguma v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Following the 2010 census, Michigan’s Republican-controlled government enacted new legislative and congressional districting plans. Plaintiffs sued in December 2017, alleging the maps violate the Equal Protection Clause by diluting the voting power of Democratic voters and the First Amendment by marginalizing votes based on party affiliation. The state sought dismissal and asked the court to stay the case pending the Supreme Court’s decision in then-pending redistricting cases, Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone. In February, while that motion was pending, eight Republican Michigan Congressional representatives moved to intervene, citing Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24(a) (intervention by right), and permissive intervention under Rule 24(b). They argued that they stood “to be irrevocably harmed by any redrawing of congressional districts” and asserted that none of the original parties adequately represented their interests. The court denied the motion to stay and the motion to intervene. The Sixth Circuit reversed as to permissive intervention, noting that the court did not explain how the “complex issues” would delay the case or prejudice Plaintiffs, how allowing the Congressmen to intervene would frustrate an expeditious resolution, or how the shared interests of the Congressmen and the citizens of Michigan were relevant to the delay-and-prejudice calculus. The Congressmen identify several interests they seek to protect, including “the relationship between constituent and representative.” Those interests differ from those of the Secretary of State and Michigan's citizens. View "League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In Ohio, judges in all courts of record are selected by election. Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 4, governs the fundraising and political conduct of judicial candidates. Platt, an Ohio attorney, formed the Platt for Judge Campaign Committee in 2013. Platt believes that parts of Canon 4 violate his rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection: Rule 4.1(A)(2), which prohibits a candidate from making speeches on behalf of a political party or another candidate for office; Rule 4.1(A)(3), which prohibits a candidate from publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for another public office; Rule 4.4(A), which, save for three exceptions, prohibits a judicial candidate from personally soliciting campaign contributions; Rule 4.4(E), which creates a permissible window for soliciting and receiving campaign contributions; Rule 4.4(F), which limits the solicitation and receipt of contributions for candidates defeated before the general election; and Rule 4.4(G), which regulates the solicitation and receipt of contributions for candidates who die or withdraw from the election. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rejection of all of Platt’s claims. Ohio’s rules strike the delicate balance between the Constitution’s commands and the state’s desire to protect judicial integrity. View "Platt v. Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline of the Ohio Supreme Court" on Justia Law