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

Articles Posted in Election Law
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Indiana’s Act 442 allowed election officials to remove a voter from the state’s voter rolls automatically (without directly contacting the person) based on information acquired through a third-party database, “Crosscheck,” which provided the voter lists of multiple states. The Seventh Circuit concluded that Act 442 was preempted by the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), 52 U.S.C. 20507(d), which requires hearing directly from that voter or providing notice to the voter that he would be removed from the rolls if he did not respond and failed to vote in the next two federal general elections.Indiana replaced Act 442 with Act 334, ending Indiana’s participation in Crosscheck in favor of the Indiana Data Enhancement Association, which is functionally identical to Crosscheck. The Act makes county officials responsible for deciding whether to remove a name, deleting Act 442’s requirement that county officials automatically remove the voter from the rolls. Act 334 instructs county officials to determine: whether a presumptive match in another state “is the same individual who is a registered voter of the county”; whether the registration in another state occurred after the presumptively matching Indiana registration; and whether the voter “authorized the cancellation of any previous registration” when the voter registered in the second state.The Seventh Circuit held that Act 334 is also preempted; it renders inapplicable the rule that a voter must personally authorize the cancellation of her registration before the county official may take that step. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Sullivan" on Justia Law

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Madigan was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1970 and re-elected to 25 additional two-year terms. He became Speaker of the House in 1983 and the state’s Democratic Party Chairman in 1998. In 2021 he withdrew from the race to be reelected as Speaker and resigned his seat in the House and his role as Chairman. Four candidates were on the ballot for the 2016 Democratic primary. Madigan won with 65% of the votes; Gonzales received 27%, Rodriguez 6%, and Barboza 2%. Gonzales sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Rodriguez and Barboza were stooges put on the ballot by Madigan’s allies to divide the Hispanic vote, violating the Equal Protection Clause.The district judge noted that Gonzales had made his suspicions public early in the race and that an editorial in the Chicago Sun-Times agreed with Gonzales. Concluding that the voters were not deceived, the court granted summary judgment against Gonzales. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district judge did not penalize Gonzales’s campaign speech. Speech, including in depositions and interrogatories, often affects litigation's outcome; a judge who takes account of speech that proves or refutes a claim does not violate the First Amendment. Gonzales told the voters that he thought Madigan had played a dirty trick. The electorate sided with Madigan. The Constitution does not authorize the judiciary to upset that outcome or to penalize a politician for employing a shady strategy that voters tolerate. View "Gonzales v. Madigan" on Justia Law

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In 2020 Krislov sought to run in the Democratic primary for a position on the Illinois Supreme Court. To get on the ballot he needed 5,050 valid signatures, 0.4% of the votes cast in the same district for the same party’s candidate in the most recent gubernatorial election. He submitted about 9,500 signatures, but many were ruled invalid and his total fell about 100 short. Instead of protesting that decision in state court, Krislov sued in federal court, arguing that falling 100 signatures short of 5,050 is within the margin of error for document examiners. The district court dismissed the case as a state-law challenge to a state-law requirement, which Krislov had forfeited by not using his state remedies and stating that “close enough for government work” is not an available doctrine in Illinois.The Seventh Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of a justiciable controversy. The U.S. Constitution does not require states to ensure that their laws are accurately administered. Accurate adjudication always is in the public interest—as is accurate administration of state law—but federal courts cannot proceed if the plaintiff lacks standing or the proposed remedy would not redress the plaintiff’s injury. The election is over and Krislov cannot establish that the same problem is likely to recur for him, personally; if it does, Krislov is entitled to prompt review in state court. There is no “public interest” exception to the justiciability rules. View "Krislov v. Yarbrough" on Justia Law

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Two days after Wisconsin certified the results of its 2020 election, the President invoked the Electors Clause of the U.S. Constitution and sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission, Governor, Secretary of State, and several local officials. The district court concluded that the President’s challenges lacked merit, as he objected only to the administration of the election, yet the Electors Clause only addresses the authority of the State’s Legislature to prescribe the manner of appointing its presidential electors. The court concluded that the President’s claims would fail even under a broader, alternative reading of the Electors Clause that extended to a state’s conduct of the presidential election.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wisconsin lawfully appointed its electors in the manner directed by its Legislature. The President’s claim also fails because of the unreasonable delay that accompanied the challenges the President now wishes to advance against Wisconsin’s election procedures. The Supreme Court has indicated that federal courts should avoid announcing or requiring changes in election law and procedures close in time to voting. The President had a full opportunity before the election to pursue challenges to Wisconsin law underlying his present claims; he cannot now—after the election results have been certified as final— seek to bring those challenges. View "Trump v. Wisconsin Elections Commission" on Justia Law

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Indiana law provides that state’s election polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. In 2019, Indiana enacted amendments: only a county election board has standing in an Indiana court to request the extension of the hours and only if the board’s members unanimously vote to file suit, IND. CODE 3- 11.7-7-2. Before a court may extend the poll hours, several findings must be made, including that the polls were substantially delayed in opening or subsequently closed during normal polling hours and any extension must be limited to not more than the duration of time the polls were closed and only for those polls whose opening was delayed.Common Cause challenged the amendments as burdening the fundamental right to vote, divesting state courts of jurisdiction to hear federal claims in violation of the Supremacy Clause, and depriving voters of procedural due process. On September 22, 2020, the district court granted a preliminary injunction.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Indiana may enforce the statutes as written. The court noted that no decision of the Supreme Court or any court of appeals has held that the Constitution requires a state to provide a private right of action to enforce any state law. To the extent that federal law will require Indiana to provide such an extension, voters can invoke their federal rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The amendments do not place a burden on the right to vote, View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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Indiana counts an absentee ballot only if it is received by noon on Election Day. In September 2020, a district court found that rule unconstitutional, reasoning that the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, which has led to more use of mail-in voting, creates a risk that ballots mailed close to Election Day will not be received on time.The Seventh Circuit reversed an injunction requiring the state to count all absentee ballots received by November 13, 2020. Difficulties attributable to the virus do not require changes in electoral rules. If it is possible to vote in person, the rules for absentee ballots are constitutionally valid if they are supported by a rational basis and do not discriminate based on a forbidden characteristic. It is rational to require absentee votes to be received by Election Day, just as in-person voting ends on Election Day. Counting the votes, and announcing the results, as soon as possible after the polls close serves a civic interest. People can protect themselves by using early in-person voting or posting their ballots early. Those who act at the last minute assume risks even without a pandemic. Federal judges should avoid changing electoral rules close to an election. In September, COVID-19 was not a last-minute event; the district court acted too close to the election. View "Common Cause Indiana v. Lawson" on Justia Law

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A district judge extended Wisconsin’s deadline for online and mail-in registration by one week; extended the deadline for delivery of absentee ballots by mail by allowing for online delivery and access by October 29; and extended the deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots from Election Day to November 9, if the ballots are postmarked on or before November 3. On September 29, the Seventh Circuit denied motions for a stay in these appeals, reasoning that Wisconsin’s legislative branch was not authorized to represent the state’s interest in defending its statutes. Subsequently, the court certified the question to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, which responded that the state legislature is authorized to represent Wisconsin’s interest in the validity of state laws.The Seventh Circuit then stayed the district court order pending appeal. A federal court should not change the rules so close to an election and political rather than judicial officials are entitled to decide when a pandemic justifies changes to otherwise-valid rules. The district court entered its injunction six weeks before the election and less than four weeks before the first deadline that it altered. Voters have had many months to register or obtain absentee ballots and to cast ballots while preserving social distancing. The district court did not find that any person who wants to avoid voting in person on Election Day would be unable to cast a ballot in Wisconsin by planning ahead. Voters who wait until the last minute face problems regardless of the pandemic. View "Wisconsin State Legislature v. Bostelmann" on Justia Law

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Indiana voters in 13 categories can vote by mail. One category encompasses voters aged 65 and older; others encompass disabled or homebound voters, voters who lack transportation, and voters who expect to be absent from the county on election day. For the June 2020 primary election, the Indiana Election Commission responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by extending absentee-voting privileges to all registered, qualified voters. The order was not renewed for the November general election. Indiana voters may vote during 28 days before the election; the state is implementing safety guidelines and procuring protective equipment. Plaintiffs argued that Indiana’s extension of absentee ballots to elderly voters violated the Twenty-Sixth Amendment by abridging younger voters' rights and that requiring some voters to cast in-person ballots during the pandemic infringes on their fundamental right to vote.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of a preliminary injunction requiring Indiana to permit unlimited absentee voting. The fundamental right to vote does not extend to a right to cast an absentee ballot. The pandemic, not Indiana’s laws, caused the difficulties that might accompany in-person voting. The Constitution explicitly authorizes states to prescribe the manner of holding federal elections; balancing the interests of discouraging fraud and mitigating election-related issues with encouraging voter turnout is a judgment reserved to the legislature. Federal courts must exercise caution and restraint before upending state regulations on the eve of an election. . Voting is already underway in Indiana. View "Indiana Vote by Mail, Inc. v. Okeson" on Justia Law

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The Democratic National Committee claimed that Wisconsin statutes would abridge some voters’ rights during the pandemic. A district judge extended the deadline for online and mail-in registration from October 14 to October 21; extended the deadline for delivery of absentee ballots by mail from October 22 by allowing for online delivery and access by October 29; and extended the deadline for the receipt of mailed ballots from November 3 (Election Day) to November 9, if the ballots are postmarked on or before November 3. The Seventh Circuit denied a stay, concluding that none of the appellants has a legal interest for purposes of appeal.The district court did not order the Republican Party intervenors to do something or forbid them from doing anything. The deadlines do not affect any legal interest of either organization or of their members.Appeal by the state, or someone with rights under the contested statute, is essential to review of a decision concerning the validity of a statute. The interest at stake here is not the power to legislate but the validity of rules established by legislation. All of the legislators’ votes were counted; all of the statutes they passed appear in the state’s code. The constitutional validity of a law does not concern any legislative interest. State executive officials are responsible for the vindication of the state’s interest in the validity of enacted legislation.While the Seventh Circuit previously held that Wis. Stat. 803.09(2m) permits the legislature to act as a representative of the state, the Wisconsin Supreme Court subsequently held that the interpretation violates the state’s constitution, which commits to the executive branch the protection of the state’s interest in litigation. View "Wisconsin State Legislature v. Bostelmann" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Democrats were elected as the governor and attorney general of Wisconsin, replacing Republicans. Immediately after the election, the Republican-controlled legislature enacted Act 369 and Act 370, which strip the incoming governor and attorney general of various powers and vest legislative committees that remained under Republican control with formerly-executive authority. The changes include prohibiting the governor from re-nominating potential appointees who have been rejected once by the legislature; giving the legislature authority to suspend an administrative rule multiple times; removing the governor’s ability to appoint the CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation; adding legislative appointees to the Economic Development Corporation; requiring that the attorney general obtain legislative approval before withdrawing from a lawsuit filed by the state government or settling a lawsuit for injunctive relief; and granting the legislature unrestricted rights to intervene in litigation to defend the constitutionality or validity of state law.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 claiming violations of the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Guarantee Clause of Article IV, Section 4 of the United States Constitution. The plaintiffs have not pointed to any concrete harms they have suffered or will suffer because of the Acts and are not entitled to any remedy under the Constitution. Any judicial remedy for the alleged harms must come from the courts of Wisconsin. View "Democratic Party of Wisconsin v. Vos" on Justia Law