Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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A Maryland law requiring newspapers, among other platforms, to publish on their websites, as well as retain for state inspection, certain information about the political ads they decide to carry, violates the First amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunctive relief awarded by the district court and explained that, while Maryland's law tries to serve important aims, the state has gone about this task in too circuitous and burdensome a manner to satisfy constitutional scrutiny. The court agreed with the district court that the law is a content-based law that targets political speech and compels newspapers, among other platforms, to carry certain messages on their websites. The court declined to decide whether strict or exacting scrutiny should apply to a disclosure law like the one at issue, and held that the law failed under the more forgiving exact scrutiny standard. View "The Washington Post v. McManus" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying Citizens' motion for attorney's fees, expert fees, and costs stemming from a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action that successfully challenged a 2015 state law that redrew Greensboro City Council districts. The court held that civil rights fee-shifting statutes, such as those at issue here, are not meant to punish defendants for a lack of innocence or good faith but rather to "compensate civil rights attorneys who bring civil rights cases and win them." The court explained that "innocence" or a "lack of responsibility" for the enactment of an unconstitutional law was therefore not an appropriate criterion to justify denying a fee award against the party responsible for and enjoined from enforcing the unconstitutional law. View "Brandon v. Guilford County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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Virginia's Incumbent Protection Act, Va. Code Ann. 24.2-509(B), violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. Subsection 24.2-509(B) limits the broad authority recognized by subsection A, which empowers the duly constituted authorities of the state and local parties to determine the method by which a party nomination shall be made. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to permanently enjoin enforcement of the entire Act. The court agreed with the district court's finding that the fourth sentence of the Act, which protects the nomination prerogatives of incumbent members of Congress among others, violated the First Amendment because it imposed a severe burden on the associational rights of Virginia's political parties and the Commonwealth has been unable to show that it is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. The court also agreed with the district court's decision to enjoin the Act's second and third sentences, which protect the nomination prerogatives of incumbent members of the General Assembly. The court held that the Committee had standing to challenge these provisions and that they were, if anything, even more offensive to the First Amendment than the fourth sentence. View "6th Congressional District Republican Committee v. Alcorn" on Justia Law

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Intervening defendants could not be required to pay a portion of prevailing plaintiffs' attorneys fees and costs, awarded under 42 U.S.C. 1988(b) and 52 U.S.C. 10310(e), when intervening defendants were not charged with any wrongdoing and could not be held liable for the relief that plaintiffs sought. In Independent Federation of Flight Attendants v. Zipes, 491 U.S. 754 (1989), the Supreme Court precluded the assessment of attorneys fees and costs against intervenors who were "blameless," meaning that they were not charged as wrongdoers and legal relief could not have been obtained from them. In this racial gerrymandering case, the Fourth Circuit held that Zipes was controlling and that the Commonwealth could not be held liable for attorneys fees and costs incurred by plaintiffs in litigating against the entry of Intervening Congressmen or against Intervening Congressmen's positions. Under the traditional American rule, plaintiffs must bear those intervention-related fees. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's order awarding attorneys fees and costs, remanding for reconsideration of plaintiffs' petitions for fees. View "Brat v. Personhuballah" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are the Powhatan County Republican Committee and four individuals nominated by the Committee to be candidates for election to the Board of Supervisors for Powhatan County, Virginia. Plaintiffs filed suit against the Board of Elections, challenging the constitutionality of the portion of Virginia Code 24.2-613(B) that provides that only candidates in elections "for federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices" may be identified on the ballot by the name of the political party that nominated them or by the term "Independent." The district court granted judgment in favor of the Board. The court concluded that the burden on associational rights imposed by Virginia's regulation of the use of party identifiers on official ballots is at most minimal and is amply justified by Virginia's important interests, which include minimizing partisanship at the local government level, promoting impartial governance, and maximizing the number of citizens eligible to hold local office under the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. 7321-7326; concluded that section 24.2-613(B)'s different treatment of local candidates and federal, statewide, and General Assembly candidates with respect to party identifiers on the ballot does not violate the Equal Protection Clause because such treatment is rationally related to legitimate governmental interests; and thus affirmed the judgment. View "Marcellus v. Virginia State Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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These consolidated cases challenge provisions of a recently enacted North Carolina election law. Session Law 2013-381.2 imposed a number of voting restrictions. The law required in-person voters to show certain photo IDs, beginning in 2016, which African Americans disproportionately lacked, and eliminated or reduced registration and voting access tools that African Americans disproportionately used. Prior to the enactment of SL 2013-381, the legislature requested and received racial data as to usage of the practices changed by the proposed law. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans. The court concluded that the asserted justifications for the law cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation: taking away minority voters' opportunity because they were about to exercise it. Therefore, the court concluded that the General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent. The court reversed and remanded with instructions to enjoin the challenged provisions of the law. View "N.C. State Conference v. McCrory" on Justia Law

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In these consolidated cases, plaintiffs filed suit challenging two redistricting laws, alleging that some Wake County School Board and Wake County Board of County Commissioners districts have been over-populated, while others have been under-populated. Plaintiffs further assert that these discrepancies result in some votes counting more while others count less, and that the discrepancies stem from illegitimate redistricting factors. The court concluded that, to succeed on the merits, plaintiffs in one person, one vote cases with population deviations below 10% must show by a preponderance of the evidence that improper considerations predominate in explaining the deviations. In this case, plaintiffs have proven that it is more probable than not that the population deviations at issue here reflect the predominance of an illegitimate reapportionment factor, namely an intentional effort to create a significant partisan advantage. Therefore, the district court committed reversible error in granting judgment for defendants. For the same reasons that plaintiffs succeed with their federal claim, they also succeed with their North Carolina state one person, one vote claim. Finally, the district court did not commit clear error in rejecting plaintiffs' racial gerrymandering claim. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded in part, and affirmed in part. View "Raleigh Wake Citizens Ass'n v. Wake Cnty. Bd. of Elections" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a political figure in the Libertarian Party of Virginia, filed suit challenging Virginia's three-tiered ballot ordering law, Virginia Code 24.2-613. The district court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff principally argued on appeal that Virginia's three-tiered ballot ordering law advantages candidates from what he calls “major parties” and disadvantages candidates like him that hail from what he calls “minor parties.” The court noted that the text and history of the Constitution, well established Supreme Court precedent, and the structural principles inherent in our federal system counsel respect for the Virginia General Assembly’s power to administer elections in Virginia. With state legislatures’ longstanding authority to regulate elections in mind, the court employed the Supreme Court’s Anderson/Burdick decisional framework to distinguish those laws whose burdens are uniquely unconstitutional from the majority of laws whose validity is unquestioned. The court concluded that the three-tiered ballot ordering law imposes little burden on plaintiff’s constitutional rights, and Virginia articulates several important interests supporting the law. The ballot ordering law imposes only the most modest burdens on plaintiff's rights where the law is facially neutral and nondiscriminatory. Furthermore, the law is supported by important regulatory interests where the law may assist the voting process by reducing voter confusion and preserving party-order, as well as reduce multi-party factionalism and promote political stability. Therefore, the court concluded that it has no basis for finding the state statute unconstitutional and affirmed the judgment. View "Sarvis v. Alcorn" on Justia Law

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Maryland allows any voter to vote via absentee ballot. Plaintiffs filed suit under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. 12132, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794, against state election officials under federal law, alleging that marking a hardcopy ballot by hand without assistance is impossible for voters with various disabilities, and that they have therefore been denied meaningful access to absentee voting. Defendants argue that even if absentee voting is not fully accessible, the full accessibility of Maryland’s in-person polling places provides disabled voters with meaningful access to voting. The court concluded that defendants’ proposed focus is overbroad and would undermine the purpose of the ADA and its implementing regulations. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s conclusion that by effectively requiring disabled individuals to rely on the assistance of others to vote absentee, defendants have not provided plaintiffs with meaningful access to Maryland’s absentee voting program. The court also concluded that plaintiffs’ proposed use of the online ballot marking tool is a reasonable modification to Maryland’s absentee voting policies and procedures. The court agreed with the the district court that defendants have not met their burden to show that plaintiffs’ proposed modification - use of the online ballot marking tool - would fundamentally alter Maryland’s voting program. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "National Federation of the Blind v. Lamone" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging a state law redrawing the Wake County Board of Education electoral districts, arguing that under the new redistricting plan, some citizen’s votes will get significantly more weight than other’s in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantees of one person, one vote and the North Carolina Constitution’s promise of equal protection. The district court granted defendants’ motions to dismiss and denied plaintiffs’ motion to amend as futile. The court concluded that plaintiffs’ allegations in support of their claim that the law violates the one person, one vote principle suffice to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Thus, plaintiffs have stated a claim upon which relief could be granted against the Wake County Board of Elections and the district court therefore erred in dismissing their suit. The court affirmed, however, the denial of the motion to amend because the state officials plaintiffs proposed to add as named defendants are not amenable to suit. View "Wright v. North Carolina" on Justia Law