U.S. District Court Strikes Down Two Campaign Finance Restrictions in Austin, Texas

On July 20, U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel struck down two Austin, Texas campaign finance restrictions, but he upheld a third one. The case is Zimmerman v City of Austin, w.d., 1:15cv-628. Here is the 18-page opinion.

Austin law made it illegal for candidates for Mayor or City Council to receive campaign contributions, except during the period starting six months before the election. That law was invalidated.

Austin law also required candidates for Mayor and City Council to disburse their excess campaign contributions, during the three months after the election. The law required them to give the money back to their contributors, give it to charity, or the city. That was also invalidated.

The judge upheld the $300 limit on individual contributions. The fourth issue in the case was the law that limited the amount that a candidate could spend, that came from outside the city, to $36,000. The judge said the plaintiff did not have standing to challenge that law. The plaintiff is an incumbent member of the city council who is running for re-election. The evidence showed he had nowhere near that amount of contributions from outside the city, so as to him, the law made no difference, so he lacked standing.

Virginia Supreme Court Tells Governor that He Can’t Issue a Blanket Permission to Ex-Felons to Register

On July 22, the Virginia Supreme Court, by a vote of 4-3, ruled that Governor Terry McAuliffe is not permitted by the State Constitution to issue a blanket order enfranchising ex-felons. The Constitution gives the Governor power to restore voting rights to ex-felons, but according to the State Supreme Court, he can only do it on an individual basis, examining each individual’s circumstances. The case is Howell v McAuliffe, 160784. Thanks to Rick Hasen for the link.

Eighth Circuit Votes 2-1 that Initiative Proponent Doesn’t Have Standing to Challenge Nebraska County Distribution Requirement for Initiatives

Nebraska requires statewide initiatives to have signatures from 5% of the last vote cast from at least 38 of the state’s 93 counties. On July 14, the Eighth Circuit ruled 2-1 that Kent Bernbeck does not have standing to challenge the county distribution requirement. The decision reverses the 2014 U.S. District Court decision that struck down the Nebraska county distribution requirement.

The case is Bernbeck v Gale, 15-1983. Judge Clarence Beam, a Reagan appointee, wrote the decision, which was also signed by Judge Bobby Shepherd, a Bush Jr. appointee. Jane Kelly, an Obama appointee, dissented. The dissent mentions the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that say ballot access laws can be challenged whether the plaintiff tried to get on the ballot or not. There is also an Eighth Circuit opinion that says plaintiffs need not try to petition in order to have standing, which the majority does not mention, although the dissent does. It is very likely that Bernbeck will ask for a rehearing en banc. The majority said he doesn’t have standing because, even though he has been active in promoting various Nebraska initiatives for decades, he didn’t actually try to put a statewide initiative on the ballot recently.

U.S. District Court Judge Orders Michigan to Restore the Straight-Ticket Device

On July 21, U.S. District Court Judge Gershwin A. Drain, an Obama appointee, issued an injunction ordering Michigan to restore the straight-ticket device that the legislature repealed earlier this year. Michigan State A. Philip Randolph Institute v Johnson, e.d., 16-cv-11844.

The order says that eliminating the straight-ticket device harms African American voters disproportionately. The order depends on research that shows African American voters uses the straight-ticket device more than other voters. The decision also says that because Michigan still has party logos on the ballot, there is fear that many voters will assume if they circle the party logo, that has the same effect as using the non-existent straight-ticket device.

The order says restoring the device will not harm any voter or candidate. Unfortunately, this is not true. Research has shown that the presence of straight-ticket devices injures independent candidates, who never have their own straight-ticket device. But the state of Michigan, which was charged with defending the repeal of the device, did not introduce any evidence about that. It is likely that the state will appeal. Thanks to Rick Hasen for the news.