Justia U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's order of a preliminary injunction entered in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and candidates for delegate seats who, if elected, would be pledged to Yang and fellow Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders. Yang, his delegates, and the Sanders delegates challenged the New York State Board of Elections' decision to remove all qualified candidates from the ballot, with the exception of former Vice President Joseph Biden, and cancel the Democratic presidential primary. The Board cancelled the Democratic presidential primary based on the coronavirus pandemic, claiming that doing so would further the State's interests in minimizing social contacts to reduce the spread of the virus and in focusing its limited resources on the management of other contested primary elections.At issue in this appeal was whether Yang, his delegates, and the Sanders delegates have demonstrated an entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief that reverses the effects of the Board's decision by requiring Yang and Sanders to be reinstated to the ballot, and the Democratic presidential primary to be conducted along with the other primary elections set for June 23, 2020.The court held that plaintiffs and the Sanders delegates have adequately established their entitlement to preliminary injunctive relief on the basis that the Board's decision unduly burdened their rights of free speech and association. The court held that plaintiffs and the Sanders delegates have made a strong showing of irreparable harm absent injunctive relief; demonstrated a clear or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments; and demonstrated that the balance of the equities tips in their favor and that the public interest would be served adequately by the district court's preliminary injunction. The court held that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion in granting the application for a preliminary injunction, which was carefully tailored to secure the constitutional rights at stake and to afford the Board sufficient time and guidance to carry out its obligations to the electorate and to the general public. View "Yang v. Kosinski" on Justia Law

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In this interlocutory appeal, defendants challenged the district court's denial of their motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction a complaint alleging that Connecticutʹs redistricting plan, which counts incarcerated individuals in the district in which their prison is located rather than the district in which they permanently reside, violates the ʺone person, one voteʺ principle of the Fourteenth Amendment.The Second Circuit affirmed in part the district court's order to the extent it held that the Eleventh Amendment bar on suits against states does not apply to plaintiffsʹ claim and denied defendantsʹ motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. However, the court held that the district court lacked jurisdiction to deny defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, because this case involves a challenge to the constitutionality of the apportionment of a statewide legislative body, which must be heard by a three-judge district court under 28 U.S.C. 2284(a). Therefore, because this case falls within section 2284(a) and plaintiffs' claim presents a substantial federal question, the court remanded for the district court to refer the matter to a three-judge court for further proceedings. View "NAACP v. Merrill" on Justia Law

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Vermont's campaign finance law, Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, 2901 et seq., which imposes additional restrictions on candidates who choose to receive public campaign finance grants, did not violate the First Amendment. Former and prospective candidates for public office in Vermont and a political party filed suit challenging provisions that prohibit publicly financed candidates from accepting contributions or making expenditures beyond the amount of the grants and announcing their candidacies or raising or expending substantial funds before a certain date.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the candidates' claims for failure to state a claim and held that, because candidates may freely choose either to accept public campaign funds and the limitations thereon or to engage in unlimited private fundraising, those limitations did not violate First Amendment rights. The court also found that the candidates were not entitled to a fee award because they could not be considered prevailing parties. View "Corren v. Donovan" on Justia Law

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Citizens United filed suit challenging the regulations promulgated by the Attorney General's office that required non-profit organizations to disclose their donors on a yearly basis. The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of all claims, except the due process claim, for failure to state a claim. The court found that the mere requirement on a tax‐exempt organization to disclose its donor list to a state's authority charged with regulating non‐profits did not impermissibly chill speech or assembly rights. Furthermore, it did not operate as a prior restraint on non‐profits' solicitation of donations. Finally, the court reversed the dismissal of the due process claim for lack of ripeness and remanded so that the claim could be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a valid claim. View "Citizens United v. Schneiderman" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the constitutionality of certain contribution restrictions within New York City's campaign finance laws. Plaintiffs claimed that the laws’ restrictions on contributions unduly burdened their protected political speech in violation of the First Amendment and denied them equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court denied plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief and dismissed their claims challenging the constitutionality of the contribution restrictions. Several years later, the Supreme Court issued its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC. Plaintiffs contend in their Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) motion for reconsideration that McCutcheon established, inter alia, a more rigorous standard of review with respect to the government’s burden of proof and what constitutes a permissible governmental interest, a standard under which the “pay to play” rules do not pass muster. The court concluded that neither of plaintiffs' purported effects, considered alone or in combination, satisfies the threshold requirement under the third clause of Rule 60(b)(5) that the judgment sought to be reconsidered apply prospectively. In this case, the February 2009 order at issue was immediately final and required nothing of the parties or the district court going forward; it did not apply prospectively. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' Rule 60(b) motion. View "Tapper v Hearn" on Justia Law

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VRLC is a non-profit corporation and VRLC-FIPE is a political committee formed under Vermont law. VRLC challenged three disclosure provisions of Vermont's election laws as unconstitutionally vague and violating freedom of speech. The court concluded that the Vermont statutory disclosure provisions concerning electioneering communications and mass media activities are constitutional and did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment's due process guarantee due to vagueness nor the First Amendment's free speech guarantee; Vermont's "political committee" definition did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment's due process guarantee because of vagueness nor violate the First Amendment's free speech guarantee; and Vermont may impose contribution limits on VRLC-PC, an entity that makes contributions to candidates, and the statute's contribution limits were constitutionally applied to VRLC-FIPE, which claims to be an independent-expenditure-only PAC. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to defendants. View "Vermont Right to Life Committee v. Sorrell, et al." on Justia Law

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NYPPP filed suit against election officials and others to enjoin enforcement of New York State Election Law 14-114(8) and 14-126(2). Section 14-114(8) imposed a $150,000 aggregate annual limit on certain political contributions by any person in New York State. Section 14-126(2) made it a misdemeanor to fail to file required statements or to knowingly and willfully violate any other provision of the Election Law. NYPPP would be prevented from receiving more than $150,000 from any individual contributor in any calendar year. The court concluded that NYPPP had a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; there were important public interests at stake which were weighed against the hardships suffered by NYPPP; and the hardships faced by NYPPP and its donors from the denial of relief was significant. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's order denying the preliminary injunction. View "New York Progress and Protection PAC v. Walsh, et al." on Justia Law

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NOM, a nonprofit advocacy organization, appealed the district court's dismissal of its amended complaint for lack of subject-matter-jurisdiction. NOM was seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that New York Election Law 14-100.1, which defined the term "political committee" for the purposes of state elections, violated the First Amendment. The court determined that NOM's case presented a live controversy that was ripe for consideration and vacated the district court's determination that it lacked jurisdiction. Because that conclusion prevented the district court from reaching the merits of NOM's claims, the court declined to comment on the substance of NOM's claims in the first instance. Therefore, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "National Organization for Marriage, Inc. v. Walsh" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, black and Hispanic registered voters in Albany County, sued the County and the Board of Elections (collectively, defendants) for enacting a redistricting plan for the Albany County Legislature (Local Law C) in response to the 2010 United States census that allegedly diluted black and Hispanic voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 42 U.S.C. 1973, by failing to provide for five majority-minority districts (MMDs). The court concluded that plaintiffs' appeal was not moot, even though the challenged elections have not taken place. While the court identified legal error in the district court's determination that plaintiffs failed to make the majority-minority showing required to satisfy the first step of a vote dilution claim as identified in Thornburg v. Gingles, the court identified no error in the district court's determination that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success as the third majority bloc-voting step of the Gingles inquiry, or in the court's denial of preliminary injunctive relief on that ground. View "Pope v. County of Albany" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that recently-enacted amendments to the New York City Administrative Code, commonly known as the "pay-to-play" rules, violated the First Amendment by unduly burdening protected political speech and association, the Fourteenth Amendment by denying equal protection of the laws, and the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973. The challenged provisions (1) reduced below the generally-applicable campaign contribution limited the amounts that people who have business dealings with the city, including lobbyists, could contribute to political campaigns; (2) denied matching funds for contributions by people who have business dealings with the city and certain people associated with lobbyists; and (3) extended the existing prohibition on corporate contributions to partnerships, LLCs, and LLPs. The court affirmed summary judgment as to all three provisions, finding that the laws were closely drawn to address the significant governmental interest in reducing corruption or the appearance thereof.