Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The Eleventh Circuit sua sponte vacated its previous opinion and substituted the following opinion.In 2015, plaintiffs filed suit challenging Alabama's 2011 Photo Voter Identification Law passed by the Alabama legislature as House Bill 19 and codified at Ala. Code 17-9-30. The voter ID law took effect in June 2014 and requires all Alabama voters to present a photo ID when casting in-person or absentee votes. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent the enforcement of Alabama's voter ID law, alleging that the law violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution; Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), 52 U.S.C. 10301; and Section 201 of the VRA, 52 U.S.C. 10501.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, concluding that plaintiffs have failed to identify any genuine disputes of material facts and because no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the evidence presented, that Alabama's voter ID law is discriminatory. The court explained that the burden of providing a photo ID in order to vote is a minimal burden on Alabama's voters—especially when Alabama accepts so many different forms of photo ID and makes acquiring one simple and free for voters who lack a valid ID but wish to obtain one. Therefore, the Alabama voter ID law does not violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the VRA. View "Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama" on Justia Law

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Ten days after the 2020 presidential election, plaintiff, a Georgia voter, filed suit against state election officials to enjoin certification of the general election results, to secure a new recount under different rules, and to establish new rules for an upcoming runoff election. Plaintiff alleged that the extant absentee-ballot and recount procedures violated Georgia law and, as a result, his federal constitutional rights. The district court denied plaintiff's motion for emergency relief.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiff lacks standing to sue because he fails to allege a particularized injury. The court explained that plaintiff alleged only a generalized grievance because he bases his standing on his interests in ensuring that only lawful ballots are counted, and an injury to the right to require that the government be administered according to the law is a generalized grievance. In this case, plaintiff cannot explain how his interest in compliance with state election laws is different from that of any other person.Even if plaintiff had standing, because Georgia has already certified its election results and its slate of presidential electors, plaintiff's requests for emergency relief are moot to the extent they concern the 2020 election. The court stated that the Constitution makes clear that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the court may not entertain post-election contests about garden-variety issues of vote counting and misconduct that may properly be filed in state courts. View "Wood v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the State, arguing that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 violates the Georgia Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the extent it allows the State to cancel the November 2020 election for the office of district attorney for the Western Judicial Circuit. Plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction that would require the State to hold the election, which the district court granted.Because the Eleventh Circuit is bound by the Supreme Court of Georgia's decision that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2, as challenged here, violates the Georgia Constitution, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that plaintiff established a substantial likelihood of success in her argument that O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 violates the Georgia Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by concluding that plaintiff would suffer an irreparable injury unless an injunction was granted, because the State's enforcement of O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 would deprive plaintiff of her right to vote in the November 2020 district attorney election. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that the balance of harms and public interest weigh in favor of granting the injunction. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's order granting the preliminary injunction. View "Gonzalez v. Governor of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not clearly err in finding that House Bill 836's district map violated section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. HB 836 reduced the size of the board from nine members to seven. Where all nine members previously had come from single-member districts, now only five would, and two would be drawn from at large seats. Plaintiff alleged that the new map would violate section 2 by diluting the strength of Black voters in Sumter County. The district court agreed and entered a remedial order removing the at-large seats and drawing a new map with seven single-member districts instead.The court reviewed the entire record and held that plaintiff adduced ample evidence supporting a finding of vote dilution. The court held that the district court did not clearly err in concluding that plaintiff satisfied all three Gingles factors: first, the undisputed evidence showed that Sumter County's Black residents could form a majority in at least one additional single-member district (and probably in two); second, the Black voters in Sumter County were highly cohesive in ten of the twelve elections studied; and third, White residents vote sufficiently as a bloc to enable them usually to defeat the minority's preferred candidate. The court also held that plaintiff established that the totality of the circumstances results in an unequal opportunity for minority voters to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choosing. In this case, the district court did not clearly err by finding that the first, second, fifth, and seventh Senate factors weighed heavily in plaintiff's favor. The district court noted Georgia's, and Sumter County's, painful history of discrimination against its Black residents, emphasizing the high levels of racially polarized voting and observed the lack of success enjoyed by Black candidates in Sumter County. Furthermore, the special master report expressly found an easily achievable remedy available. View "Wright v. Sumter County Board of Elections and Registration" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court misapplied the Anderson-Burdick framework when it enjoined the State defendants' enforcement of a long-standing Georgia absentee ballot deadline, which requires ballots to be received by 7:00 p.m. on Election Day to be counted. The district court, instead, manufactured its own ballot deadline so that the State is now required to count any ballot that was both postmarked by and received within three days of Election Day. Because the State defendants have met all four prongs of the Nken test, the court granted their motion to stay the injunction.The court concluded that the State defendants have shown that they will likely succeed on the merits of their claim because the district court did not properly apply the appropriate framework. The court explained that Georgia's decades-old absentee ballot deadline is both reasonable and nondiscriminatory, while its interests in maintaining that deadline (especially now that absentee voting has already begun) are at least "important"—as the district court itself recognized—and likely compelling. In this case, the district court erred by finding that Georgia's Election Day deadline severely burdened the right to vote, and by improperly weighing the State's interests against this burden. The court also concluded that Georgia will suffer irreparable harm absent a stay and a stay is in the public interest. Therefore, because Georgia's decades-old Election Day deadline for absentee ballots does not threaten voting rights, and is justified by a host of interests, the court stayed the district court's injunction of that deadline. View "The New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger" on Justia Law

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The people of Florida amended their state constitution to restore the voting rights of convicted felons. Before regaining the right to vote, felons must complete all the terms of their sentences, including imprisonment, probation, and payment of any fines, fees, costs, and restitution. Felons sued, challenging the requirement that they pay their fines, fees, costs, and restitution before regaining the right to vote. They alleged the requirement violated the Equal Protection Clause as applied to felons who cannot pay; imposed a tax on voting in violation of the Twenty-Fourth Amendment; was void for vagueness; and adopted requirements that make it difficult for them to determine whether they are eligible to vote. The district court permanently enjoined the condition's enforcement.The Eleventh Circuit reversed. States may restrict voting by felons in ways that would be impermissible for other citizens. Laws governing felon disenfranchisement and re-enfranchisement are generally subject to rational basis review; “reform may take one step at a time.” Florida has legitimate interests in disenfranchising convicted felons, even those who have completed their sentences, and in restoring felons to the electorate after justice has been done and they have been fully rehabilitated. Fines, which are paid to the government as punishment for a crime, and restitution, which compensates crime victims, are not taxes. Felons and law enforcement can readily discern exactly what conduct is prohibited: a felon may not vote or register to vote if he knows that he has failed to complete all terms of his criminal sentence. View "Jones v. Governor of Florida" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated its original opinion in this appeal and substituted in its place the following opinion.At issue is whether several voters and organizations may challenge in federal court a law that governs the order in which candidates appear on the ballot in Florida's general elections. Plaintiffs alleged that the law violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments because candidates who appear first on the ballot enjoy a "windfall vote" from a small number of voters who select the first candidate on a ballot solely because of that candidate’s position of primacy. The district court permanently enjoined the Secretary—and the 67 county Supervisors of Elections, none of whom were made parties to this lawsuit—from preparing ballots in accordance with the law.The court held that the voters and organizations lack standing to sue the Secretary because none of them proved an injury in fact. In this case, any injury they might suffer is neither fairly traceable to the Secretary nor redressable by a judgment against her because she does not enforce the challenged law. Rather, the Supervisors—county officials independent of the Secretary—are responsible for placing candidates on the ballot in the order the law prescribes. However, the district court lacked authority to enjoin those officials in this suit, so it was powerless to provide redress. The court also held, in the alternative, that the voters and organizations' complaint presents a nonjusticiable political question. The court explained that complaints of unfair partisan advantage based on the order in which candidates appear on the ballot bear all the hallmarks of a political question outside the court's competence to resolve. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction. View "Jacobsen v. Florida Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit certified the following question to the Supreme Court of Georgia under O.C.G.A. 15-2-9: Does O.C.G.A. 45-5-3.2 conflict with Georgia Constitution Article VI, Section VIII, Paragraph I(a) (or any other provision) of the Georgia Constitution? View "Gonzalez v. Governor of the State of Georgia" on Justia Law

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The Independent Party of Florida and the Party for Socialism and Liberation seek to place their presidential candidates on the ballot in Florida without satisfying the requirements of Fla. Stat. 103.021(4)(a)–(b). Under the law, minor parties may access the presidential ballot either by satisfying a one-percent signature requirement or by affiliating with a qualified national party.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of the minor parties' motion for a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of these requirements. The court first held that the Party for Socialism and Liberation has Article III standing. In this case, the party will be injured if its candidate is denied access to the ballot; the future injury is impending; the injury is fairly traceable; and the injury could be redressed by an injunction forbidding the Secretary to deny the party access to the ballot based on the challenged provisions.The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test to resolve equal-protection challenges to a ballot-access requirement and held that Florida's goal of accounting for the national interest in presidential elections justifies its decision to provide different paths to the ballot for minor parties that affiliate with a qualified national party and those that do not. Therefore, the minor parties are unlikely to succeed on their claims that the ballot-access requirements unconstitutionally burden their First Amendment rights and deny them equal protection of the laws. View "Independent Party of Florida v. Secretary, State of Florida" on Justia Law

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In 2015, plaintiffs filed suit challenging Alabama's 2011 Photo Voter Identification Law passed by the Alabama legislature as House Bill 19 and codified at Ala. Code 17-9-30. The voter ID law took effect in June 2014 and requires all Alabama voters to present a photo ID when casting in-person or absentee votes. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that the law has a racially discriminatory purpose and effect that violates the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act (VRA).The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the Secretary, holding that plaintiffs failed to identify any genuine disputes of material facts and no reasonable factfinder could find, based on the evidence presented, that Alabama's voter ID law is discriminatory. The court held that the burden of providing a photo ID pursuant to Ala. Code 17-9-30 in order to vote is a minimal burden on Alabama's voters—especially when Alabama accepts so many different forms of photo ID and makes acquiring one simple and free for voters who lack a valid ID but wish to obtain one. Therefore, the Alabama voter ID law does not violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Constitution, nor does it violate the Voting Rights Act. View "Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Secretary of State for the State of Alabama" on Justia Law