Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law

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The issue presented by this matter for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether section 5 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) preempted a Kansas law requiring documentary proof of citizenship ("DPOC") for voter registration as applied to the federally-mandated voter-registration form that is part of any application to obtain or renew a driver's license. The U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas granted a motion for a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Kansas DPOC requirements, holding that plaintiffs-appellees made a strong showing that the Kansas law was preempted by NVRA section 5. Defendant-appellant Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach appealed the district court’s entry of the preliminary injunction, which required him to register to vote any applicants previously unable to produce DPOC and to cease enforcement of Kansas’s DPOC requirement with respect to individuals who apply to register to vote at the Kansas Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") through the "motor voter" process. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found after review that the district court did not abuse its discretion in granting the preliminary injunction because the NVRA preempted Kansas's DPOC law as enforced against those applying to vote while obtaining or renewing a driver's license. "Having determined that Secretary Kobach has failed to make this showing, we conclude that the DPOC required by Kansas law is more than the minimum amount of information necessary and, therefore, is preempted by the NVRA. We affirm the grant of a preliminary injunction." View "Fish v. Kobach" on Justia Law

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The Independence Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, conducts research and educates the public on public policy. During the 2014 Colorado gubernatorial campaign, the Institute intended to air an advertisement on Denver-area television that was critical of the state’s failure to audit its new health care insurance exchange. The Institute was concerned that the ad qualified as an “electioneering communication” under the Colorado Constitution and, therefore, to run it the Institute would have to disclose the identity of financial donors who funded the ad. The Institute resisted the disclosure requirement, arguing that the First Amendment prohibited disclosure of donors to an ad that is purely about a public policy issue and is unrelated to a campaign. The Tenth Circuit court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the Colorado Secretary of State. "Colorado’s disclosure requirements, as applied to this advertisement, meet the exacting scrutiny standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. . . . The provision serves the legitimate interest of informing the public about the financing of ads that mention political candidates in the final weeks of a campaign, and its scope is sufficiently tailored to require disclosure only of funds earmarked for the financing of such ads." View "Independence Institute v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Several voters filed a challenge to Sandoval County’s administration of the 2012 local election, and the district court concluded that the County’s election procedures were so dysfunctional that an immediate remedy was necessary to avoid voter disenfranchisement in the approaching 2014 election. To remedy the anticipated election day problems, the court entered a preliminary injunction that required the County to adhere to new regulations increasing the number of voting centers and voting machines. County election officials sought interlocutory appellate review of the preliminary injunction prior to the election, but the Tenth Circuit declined to intervene at that time. The election went off without a hitch, and the Court reviewed the County’s challenge to the injunction. In addition, the Court considered a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot presented by the voters who brought the suit. Concluding the issues raised by the grant of the preliminary injunction were mooted by the passage of the 2014 election, the Court granted the motion and dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Fleming v. Gutierrez" on Justia Law

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Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach sought, on behalf of their states, that the Election Assistance Commission (“EAC”) add language requiring documentary proof of citizenship to each state’s instructions on the federal voter registration form. The EAC concluded that the additional language was unnecessary and denied their requests. After Kobach and Bennett filed suit challenging the EAC’s decision, the district court concluded that the agency had a nondiscretionary duty to grant their requests. The EAC appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the district court’s erred in its conclusion: the decision was "plainly" in conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision in "Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, Inc. (ITCA)," (133 S. Ct. 2247 (2013)). "This is one of those instances in which the dissent clearly tells us what the law is not. It is not as if the proposition had not occurred to the majority of the Court. Applying traditional APA review standards, our thorough reading of the record establishes that Kobach and Bennett have failed to advance proof that registration fraud in the use of the Federal Form prevented Arizona and Kansas from enforcing their voter qualifications." View "Kobach v. United States Election Assistance Commission" on Justia Law

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In May 2012, election officials in six Colorado counties had the theoretical ability to learn how individuals voted because the ballots were traceable. Citizen Center, a Colorado non-profit organization, sued the Secretary of State and the clerks for five of the six counties, contending that the use of traceable ballots violated members' federal constitutional rights involving: (1) voting, (2) free speech and association, (3) substantive due process, (4) equal protection, and (5) procedural due process. In addition, Citizen Center sued five of the clerks for violation of the Colorado Constitution. All defendants moved to dismiss for lack of standing, and the clerks included an alternative argument for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court dismissed the complaint on standing grounds without reaching the merits of the clerks' argument under Rule 12(b)(6). Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the claims were partially moot because the Secretary of State adopted new regulations banning some of the challenged practices; (2) Citizen Center had standing on the "live" parts of the claims involving denial of equal protection and procedural due process, but its alleged injury in fact was too speculative for standing on the right-to-vote, free-speech-and-association and substantive-due-process claims; and (3) the first amended complaint failed to state a valid claim against the clerks for denial of equal protection or procedural due process. These conclusions resulted in a termination of all claims except the federal claims against the Secretary of State for denial of equal protection and procedural due process. View "Citizen Center v. Gessler" on Justia Law

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In 2010, three individuals ran for the Colorado House of Representatives, House District 61: Kathleen Curry was a write-in candidate; Roger Wilson was the Democratic nominee, and Luke Korkowski was the Republican nominee. Under Colorado law, individual contributions to Ms. Curry were capped at $200, and individual contributions to each of her opponents were capped at $400. Contributors to Ms. Curry’s campaign sued state officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of the First Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The district court rejected the claims and granted summary judgment to the state officials. The Tenth Circuit reversed on the equal-protection claim; and in light of this, declined to address the summary-judgment ruling on the First Amendment claims. View "Riddle v. Hickenlooper" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Tenth Circuit in this case centered on a matter of state campaign finance regulations in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in "Citizens United v. FEC," (558 U.S. 310 (2010)). Before "Citizens United" in 2010, New Mexico had introduced a new state campaign finance law that imposed a host of contribution and other limitations on political parties, political action committees, and donors to such entities. As pertains to this case, the state limited the amount an individual may contribute to a political committee. Potential donors, political parties, and political committees mounted an as-applied challenge to the law in federal district court, contending several of its provisions violated the First Amendment. The district court agreed and issued a preliminary injunction, enjoining the enforcement of two provisions: (1) limits on contributions to political committees for use in federal campaigns, and (2) limits on contributions to political committees that are to be used for independent expenditures. New Mexico appealed the latter ruling, contending that the limit on contributions furthers the state’s compelling interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption in campaign spending. After careful consideration, the Tenth Circuit concluded the district court was correct that the challenged provision could not be reconciled with Citizens United and, as a result, did not err in entering a preliminary injunction. View "Republican Party of New Mexico, et al v. King, et al" on Justia Law

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A three-person nonprofit, Free Speech, brought facial and as-applied challenges against 11 C.F.R. Sec. 100.22(b). The district court dismissed, concluding that Free Speech's claims that its First Amendment rights were violated by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) were implicated only to disclosure requirements subject to exacting scrutiny and requiring a "substantial relation between the disclosure requirement and a sufficiently important governmental interest." Free Speech appealed to the Tenth Circuit. On appeal, the group argued that the district court erred in its conclusion, arguing that policies and rules of the FEC were unconstitutionally vague, overbroad and triggered burdensome registration and reporting requirements on the group that acted as the functional equivalent of a prior restraint on political speech. After careful review of the appellate filings, the district court’s order, and the entire record, the Tenth Circuit Court affirmed the dismissal for substantially the same reasons stated by the district court. View "Free Speech v. Federal Election Commission" on Justia Law

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The Constitution Party of Kansas, Curt Engelbrecht, and Mark Pickens sued the Secretary of State of Kansas, in his official capacity, alleging that their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights are violated by the Secretary's refusal, consistent with Kansas law, to keep track of Kansas voters' affiliation with the Constitution Party because the Constitution Party is not a recognized political party under Kansas law. In the district court, the parties stipulated to a Joint Statement of Facts and filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The court ruled for the Secretary, determining that Kansas's system of tracking party affiliation did not unconstitutionally burden the plaintiffs' rights. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the district court misapplied controlling Tenth Circuit precedent in evaluating their claim, and that under the proper analytical criteria, reversal is warranted. The Constitution Party did not contend that summary judgment was improper due to a lack of evidence in the record to support the Secretary's legal argument. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found no merit to the Constitution Party's argument and affirmed the district court's decision. View "Constitution Party of Kansas, et al v. Kobach" on Justia Law

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The issue on appeal to the Tenth circuit centered on what level of deference (if any) must be afforded to a local governmental entity's proffered plan to remedy an adjudged violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. 1973), when that proposed remedy unnecessarily conflicted with state law. The Court surmised that when such plans in effectuating their remedial purposes do not adhere as closely as possible to the contours of the governing state law, they are not eligible for the deference customarily afforded legislative plans. Consequently in this case, the Court affirmed the district court's order that rejected the Fremont County Board of Commissioners' proposed remedial plan, and held under settled Supreme Court precedent that strongly favors single-member districts in court-ordered plans, that the district court did not abuse its discretion in fashioning a remedial plan solely consisting of single-member districts. View "Large v. Freemont County" on Justia Law