Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law

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Fitzpatrick, a citizen of Peru, had lived in the U.S. for three years when she applied for an Illinois driver’s license; she displayed her green card and her Peruvian passport, but checked a box claiming to be a U.S. citizen. As required by the motor-voter law, 52 U.S.C. 20503–06, the form contained a checkbox for registration as a voter. Fitzpatrick maintains that the clerk asked whether she wanted to register. She inquired “Am I supposed to?”; he replied: “It’s up to you.” She checked that box, was registered, and in 2006 twice voted in federal elections, violating 18 U.S.C. 611; 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(6), provides for the removal of aliens who vote in violation of the law. On her application for citizenship, Fitzpatrick, who is married to a U.S. citizen, and has three U.S.-citizen (naturalized) children, honestly described her voting history. The BIA affirmed an order of removal. The Seventh Circuit denied relief, rejecting an “entrapment by estoppel” defense. Fitzpatrick did not make accurate disclosures when applying. She is literate in English and has no excuse for that misrepresentation. No one told her that aliens are entitled to vote or to register to vote. Fitzpatrick had time after receiving her voter-registration card to determine whether she was entitled to vote. View "Fitzpatrick v. Sessions" on Justia Law

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The petitioners sought to place on the ballot a proposition that, if approved by the voters, would impose mayoral term limits. If approved, the proposition would prevent the incumbent mayor from running for reelection. The County Clerk refused to place the proposition on the ballot because Calumet City’s current administration already had placed three propositions on the ballot. State law, 10 ILCS 5/28‐1, permitted no more than three propositions in any single election. The administration’s ballot initiatives appeared to target specifically Alderman Jones, who had announced he was running for mayor. Jones and the petitioners sought injunctive relief, claiming violations of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Illinois Constitution. The district court denied a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The request for injunctive relief was not timely and considerable harm would have been visited on the electoral system if the requested relief had been granted. There was evidence that the petitioners knew that the statute displaced their ballot initiative by the end of June, but delayed in filing suit until September 15. Jones’s individual claims were not ripe; Jones could not challenge the constitutionality of the propositions unless they were enacted by the referendum process. View "Jones v. Qualkinbush" on Justia Law

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In November 2012, 18 months before Indiana’s primary election, Common Cause sought a declaration that Indiana Code 33– 33–49–13 violated its members’ First Amendment right to cast a meaningful vote. The statute established the system for electing Marion Superior Court judges, providing that a political party could not nominate through the primary election more than half of the candidates eligible to sit on that court. Political parties eligible to hold primaries were those whose candidates for Indiana Secretary of State received at least 10 percent of the votes cast in the last general election; since 1952, only the Republican and Democratic parties have met that threshold, effectively limiting the candidates that could be selected by the voters. Marion County was the only place in the country to employ such a process. While the litigation was pending, Marion County held its primary election. There were 16 open Superior Court positions; eight Republican and 11 Democratic candidates (including plaintiffs) ran. Plaintiffs spent almost no effort campaigning and did poorly. The statute was declared unconstitutional before the general election. Plaintiffs sought a special election, to vindicate their constitutional rights. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, holding that a special election was not appropriate, given the potential burdens on the county as weighed against plaintiffs’ interest in being placed on the ballot and the voters’ interest in casting a meaningful vote. View "Bowes v. Ind. Sec'y of State" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit denied petitions for initial hearing en banc in appeals concerning Wisconsin’s law requiring voters to have qualifying photo identification. The court noted that Wisconsin will start printing absentee ballots this month and that it is unlikely that qualified electors will be unable to vote under Wisconsin’s current procedures. The state had assured the court that temporary credentials will be available to all qualified persons who seek them. Wisconsin has enacted a rule that requires the Division of Motor Vehicles to mail automatically a free photo ID to anyone who comes to DMV one time and initiates the free ID process. No one must present documents, that, for some, have proved challenging to acquire; no one must show a birth certificate, or proof of citizenship, so the urgency needed to justify an initial en banc hearing has not been shown. The state adequately informed the general public of the plan and the district court​ has the authority to monitor compliance. View "One Wis. Inst., Inc. v. Thomsen" on Justia Law

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In 2011 Wisconsin enacted a statute requiring voters to present photographic identification. A federal district judge found violation of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act and enjoined its application. The Seventh Circuit reversed. After the Supreme Court declined review, the state amended Act 23 to require acceptance of veterans’ IDs. The district court declined to address plaintiffs' remaining argument that some persons qualified to vote are entitled to relief because they face daunting obstacles to obtaining acceptable photo ID. The Seventh Circuit vacated in part; it did not previously hold that persons unable to get a photo ID with reasonable effort lack a serious grievance. The right to vote is personal and is not defeated by the fact that 99% of other people can secure the necessary credentials easily. Under Wisconsin’s law, people who do not have qualifying photo ID cannot vote, even if it is impossible for them to get such an ID. Plaintiffs want relief from that prohibition, not from the general application of Act 23. The district court should permit the parties to explore how the state’s system works today before considering plaintiffs’ remaining substantive contentions. View "Frank v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Smith was appointed to the Illinois House of Representatives to complete an unfinished term. During his campaign to be elected in his own right, his assistant, “Pete,” alerted the FBI that Smith might be corrupt. Pete began recording conversations. At the FBI’s suggestion, Pete told Smith that a constituent would provide $7,000 if Smith wrote a letter supporting her state grant application. There was no such woman; the money would come from the FBI. Smith wrote the letter and received $7,000. Smith used some of the money to pay campaign staff; a search of his home turned up the rest. At Smith’s trial for violating 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B) and 1951, the prosecutor introduced the recorded conversations with Pete. Neither side called Pete as a witness: he may have been stealing from the FBI. Pete said that he would not testify, asserting his constitutional self-incrimination privilege. The prosecutor did not seek use immunity; defense counsel did not call Pete to see whether the judge would honor his privilege assertion. Questioning why Smith did not raise the hearsay doctrine, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the conviction, rejecting an argument under the Confrontation Clause. If the statements are not hearsay, they are not testimonial. Smith was not convicted on hearsay or of out-of-court testimonial statements. Smith’s own words and deeds convicted him. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Common Cause is a national organization that advocates for elimination of barriers to voting. ICommon Cause Indiana challenged the constitutionality of Indiana Code 33-33-49-13, which establishes the process for electing judges to the Marion Superior Court in Marion County. This system is unique in Indiana, as it is the only office where primary election voters do not vote for as many candidates as there are persons to be elected to that office in the general election. Common Cause contends that the procedure violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court and Seventh Circuit agreed.The statute burdens the right to cast a meaningful vote without sufficiently weighty interests to justify such a burden. In the context of partisan judicial elections, which the state has chosen to adopt as its preferred system for selecting judges for the Marion Superior Court, the asserted benefits and interests surrounding partisan balance do not justify the burden placed on the right to vote. View "Common Cause Ind. v. Individual Members of the Ind. Election Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Before the 2008 presidential election, federal agents were investigating then-Governor Blagojevich and obtained warrants authorizing the interception of his phone calls. When Barack Obama, then a Senator from Illinois, won the election, Blagojevich was to appoint his replacement. Interceptions revealed that Blagojevich viewed the opportunity to appoint a new Senator as a bonanza. After two trials, Blagojevich was convicted of 18 crimes, including attempted extortion from campaign contributors, corrupt solicitation of funds, wire fraud, and lying to federal investigators. The district court sentenced Blagojevich to 168 months’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit vacated convictions on five counts, concerning Blagojevich’s proposal to appoint Valerie Jarrett to the Senate in exchange for an appointment to the Cabinet, and remanded. The court rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, but concluded the instructions permitted the jury to convict even if it found that his only request of Obama was for a Cabinet position. A proposal to trade one public act for another, logrolling, is unlike the swap of an official act for a private payment. The instructions do not ensure that the jury found that Blagojevich offered to trade the appointment for a private salary. Because the court affirmed on most counts and concluded that the sentencing range lies above 168 months, Blagojevich is not entitled to release pending further proceedings. View "United States v. Blagojevich" on Justia Law

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In March 2013, Reeder received a letter from Phelon, the press secretary for Illinois Senate President Cullerton, informing Reeder that his request for Senate media credentials as a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) was denied because IPI was registered as an Illinois lobbying entity. Phelon explained that Senate rules forbid credentials for anyone associated with a lobbying entity. Reeder tried again in January 2014 to obtain media credentials from the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate, arguing that IPI was no longer registered as a lobbyist. The Senate took the position that IPI was still required to register as a lobbyist given its retention of a lobbying firm that employed the same staff and office space as IPI itself. It again denied Reeder’s application. The Illinois House responded in kind. Reeder and IPI sued Illinois House Speaker Madigan and Cullerton, and their press secretaries under 42 U.S.C. 1983, claiming violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of the press, and his rights to due process and equal protection. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, concluding that the denial of credentials qualified as legislative activity and entitled the defendants to immunity. View "Reeder v. Madigan" on Justia Law

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Since 2005 Indiana has required voters to present photographic identification at the polls. In 2008, the Supreme Court (Crawford decision) held that the statute is compatible with the Constitution. In 2011 Wisconsin enacted a similar statute, 2011 Wis. Act 23. A district court held that Act 23 is unconstitutional and enjoined its implementation. The Seventh Circuit stayed that injunction, but subsequently reversed, holding that the district court’s findings do not justify an outcome different from Crawford, in which the Justices concluded that prevention of voter impersonation on election day and preservation of public confidence in the integrity of elections justify a photo ID requirement, even though persons who do not already have government-issued photo IDs must spend time to acquire necessary documents (such as birth certificates) and stand in line at a public agency to get one. Wisconsin’s law differs from Indiana’s, but not in ways that matter under the analysis in Crawford. View "League of United Latin Am. Citizens of WI v. Deininger" on Justia Law