Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The en banc court unanimously agrees that this court no longer has jurisdiction in this case because it has become moot. The en banc court explained that it is undisputed that the 2019 general election has occurred, and the current district lines will neither be used nor operate as a base for any future election. Therefore, the en banc court vacated the district court's judgment, dismissed the appeal, and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint for lack of jurisdiction. View "Thomas v. Reeves" on Justia Law

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During the Coronavirus pandemic, Texas Governor Abbott postponed the May 2020 primary runoff elections to July 14; doubled the period for early voting by personal appearance; and declared that election officials would issue further guidance on social distancing and other precautions. The Democratic Party sought injunctive and declaratory relief that those eligible to vote by mail include all “eligible voter[s], regardless of age and physical condition . . . if they believe they should practice social distancing in order to hinder the known or unknown spread of a virus or disease.” The state trial court granted a preliminary injunction; an interlocutory appeal stayed the injunction. Texas Attorney General Paxton issued a statement, indicating that fear of contracting the Virus unaccompanied by a qualifying sickness or physical condition does not constitute a disability under the Texas Election Code for purposes of receiving a ballot by mail.The plaintiffs filed federal claims that Texas’s rules for voting by mail discriminate by age, restrict political speech, are unconstitutionally vague, and that Paxton’s open letter was a threat constituting voter intimidation. The Fifth Circuit denied relief, referring to the district court’s “audacity” in entering a sweeping preliminary injunction, weeks before the election, that requires officials to distribute mail-in ballots to any eligible voter who wants one. The Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to politically accountable state officials The spread of the Virus has not given unelected federal judges a roving commission to rewrite state election code. View "Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Several Organizations and eligible voters filed suit challenging the constitutionality of Texas's winner-take-all (WTA) method of selecting presidential electors, claiming that the WTA violates the one-person, one-vote principle rooted in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and freedom of association under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of defendants' motion to dismiss. The court held that Williams v. Va. State Bd. of Elections, 288 F. Supp. 622 (E.D. Va. 1968), aff'd, 393 U.S. 320 (1969) (per curiam), did not confront an argument that appointing presidential electors through a WTA system violates freedom of association, and thus the court must address the substance of those claims. The court also held that plaintiffs failed to state a cognizable burden, and rejected plaintiffs' claims that WTA burdens their right to a meaningful vote, to associate with others, or to associate with candidates and petition electoral representatives. More generally, the court held that plaintiffs failed to allege any harms suffered by reasons of their views. Rather, the court wrote that any disadvantage plaintiffs allege is solely a consequence of their lack of electoral success. View "League of United Latin American Citizens v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the county's 2011 redistricting plan for electing county commissioners, alleging a violation of their rights under section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by providing only one Anglo-majority district.Determining that plaintiffs had standing, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that plaintiffs failed to meet the threshold conditions in Thornburg v. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 79 (1986), and in finding that plaintiffs failed to make a claim for voter dilution. In this case, the district court concluded that plaintiffs did not prove that Anglos, a minority in Dallas County, have the potential to elect their preferred candidate, a Republican, in a second commissioner district. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the district court applied the wrong standard, and that they need only provide an alternative map with two Anglo-majority districts. The court explained that an alternative map containing an additional majority-minority district does not necessarily establish an increased opportunity for the Anglo-preferred candidate. Furthermore, there was no case in which the ability to create an influence district was considered sufficient to establish a section 2 vote dilution claim.The court also held that plaintiffs failed to plead a racial gerrymandering claim, because the complaint did not allege a Shaw claim. Rather, the complaint only once alleged that race predominated, and it made this allegation five pages before stating the claim for relief. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's refusal to entertain a claim of racial gerrymandering and its denial of the vote dilution claim after trial. View "Harding v. County of Dallas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit challenging the legislative boundaries for Mississippi State Senate District 22, arguing that the district, as drawn in 2012, diluted African-American voting strength. After determining that it had jurisdiction over the declaratory judgment action and that a single district judge had the authority to decide the case, the Fifth Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in rejecting the State's laches defense.On the merits, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that the evidence established a section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 violation under the standards set forth in Thornburg v. Gingles. In this case, the district court did not err in determining that plaintiffs' section 2 challenge to a majority-minority, single-member district was legally cognizable; the district court did not clearly err in determining that plaintiffs met their burden of proving the three Gingles preconditions; the district court did not clearly err in its ultimate finding of vote dilution; and the district court's conclusion that plaintiffs were entitled to section 2 relief was fully supported by the record and not clearly erroneous. Finally, the court dismissed the State's appeal of the district court's judgment granting injunctive relief as moot, because no matter the resolution of the State's appeal, the court-ordered plan will never become operative. View "Thomas v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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LULAC filed suit against the Edwards Aquifer Authority, alleging that the Authority's electoral scheme violated the "one person, one vote" principle of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit granted summary judgment for the Authority, holding that the Authority's powers are expressly tailored to protecting the quantity and quality of groundwater in the Edwards Aquifer and do not extend to any surface water or other aquifers located within its jurisdiction; the Authority's limited functions disproportionately impact the western agricultural and eastern spring-flow counties, whose residents are most empowered by its elections; and the Authority's electoral scheme was rationally related to the legitimate goal of protecting the aquifer because it equitably balances the rival interests of the agricultural, spring-flow, and urban counties to ensure that no one region can dominate the aquifer's management. Furthermore, the apportionment scheme was likely necessary to ensure the creation of the Authority. View "League of United Latin American Citizens v. City of San Marcos" on Justia Law

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After the district court found that the boundaries for Mississippi State Senate District 22 dilute African-American voting strength and prevented those citizens from having the equal opportunity "to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice" that the Voting Rights Act guarantees, the district court switched 28 precincts between District 22 and a bordering district to remedy the violation. The Governor and Secretary of State sought a stay of the district court's final judgment.The Fourth Circuit granted in part and denied in part defendants' motion for a stay. The court held that the rule of construction, the text of the three-judge statute, its lineage, and the caselaw applying it all favor the district court's view that three judges are not required for a claim raising only statutory challenges to state legislative redistricting. The court also held that defendants have not shown a high likelihood of overturning the finding of vote dilution because their legal argument was at odds with "unimpeachable authority" from this court and their factual challenges must overcome deferential standards of review. The court rejected defendants' laches claim.However, the court held that the legislature should have the initial opportunity to draw new lines for District 22 that comply with the Voting Rights Act. Accordingly, the court issued an order granting a temporary stay to allow the legislature to remedy the Section 2 violation. Finally, the court held that defendants have not demonstrated a high likelihood of showing that the district court's narrow redraw was an abuse of discretion, and there was no risk of voter confusion and no outcry from state officials that implementing the district court’s remedy substantially disturbed its election process. View "Thomas v. Bryant" on Justia Law

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Five voters filed suit against defendants, alleging that they had been disqualified in an election in violation of their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fifth Circuit held that this appeal presented a state election contest for a legislative seat and thus the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, the court dismissed the appeal. View "Keyes v. Gunn" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Fifth Circuit reversed and rendered the district court's permanent injunction enjoining Senate Bill 14 and 5, which concerned the state's former photo voter ID law. SB 14 generally required voters to present one of five forms of government-issued identification in order to vote at the polls. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that SB 14 had an unlawful disparate impact on African American and Hispanic voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. However, the en banc court reversed and remanded. The district court then entered an interim remedy whereby in-person voters who lacked an SB 14 ID could cast a regular ballot upon completing a Declaration of Reasonable Impediment and presenting a specified form of identification. SB 5 was subsequently enacted as a legislative remedy to cure and replace SB 14. The district court subsequently entered a remedial order permanently enjoining SB 14 as well as SB 5, vacating the interim remedy, and reinstating the pre-SB 14 law that lacked any photo voter ID requirement. This court then granted the State's emergency motion and stayed the district court's orders until the final disposition of the appeal. The court held that the appeal was not moot and the district court's overreach in its remedial injunction and proceedings was an abuse of discretion meriting reversal. The court held that, under the circumstances of this case, the district court had no legal or factual basis to invalidate SB 5, and its contemplation of Section 3(c) of the VRA relief also failed. View "Veasey v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a former Austin City Councilmember, filed suit challenging four provisions of Austin's campaign-finance law: a base limit on contributions to candidates; an aggregate limit on contributions from persons outside of the Austin area; a temporal restriction prohibiting all contributions before the six months leading up to an election; and a disgorgement provision requiring candidates to distribute excess campaign funds remaining at the end of an election. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision upholding the base limit; holding that plaintiff lacked standing to challenge the aggregate limit because he had not established a sufficient injury-in-fact traceable to that limit; holding that Austin had failed to establish that the six-month temporal limit on fundraising served the interest of preventing actual corruption or its appearance; and holding that plaintiff had standing to challenge the disgorgement provision and the disgorgement provision was unconstitutional. View "Zimmerman v. Austin, Texas" on Justia Law