Justia Communications Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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New Jersey permits candidates running in primary elections to include beside their name a slogan of up to six words to help distinguish them from others on the ballot but requires that candidates obtain consent from individuals or incorporated associations before naming them in their slogans. Candidates challenged this requirement after their desired slogans were rejected for failure to obtain consent. They argued that ballot slogans are, in effect, part of the campaign and that the consent requirement should be subject to traditional First Amendment scrutiny.The district court disagreed, holding that, though the ballot slogans had an expressive function, the consent requirement regulates the mechanics of the electoral process. The court applied the Anderson-Burdick test. The Third Circuit affirmed. The line separating core political speech from the mechanics of the electoral process “has proven difficult to ascertain.“ The court surveyed the election laws to which the Supreme Court and appellate courts have applied the Anderson-Burdick test, as opposed to a traditional First Amendment analysis, and derived criteria to help distinguish which test is applicable. New Jersey’s consent requirement is subject to Anderson-Burdick’s balancing test; because New Jersey’s interests in ensuring election integrity and preventing voter confusion outweigh the minimal burden imposed on candidates’ speech, the requirement passes that test. View "Mazo v. New Jersey Secretary of State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the trial court that the Senate disclose all communications concerning an audit to American Oversight, holding that communications concerning legislative activities need not relate to proposed or pending legislation nor require an affirmative showing of indirect impairment of legislative deliberations to qualify for legislative privilege.At issue in this case was the scope and application of legislative privilege pursuant to the "Gravel/Fields framework" under the Arizona Constitution and common law. In 2020, Senate members contracted to conduct an audit of ballots cast in Maricopa County. American Oversight, a nonprofit organization, filed a complaint under Ariz. Rev. Stat. 39-121 to compel disclosure of the documents. The trial court rejected the Senate's immunity claim and ordered it to disclose the documents. When the Senate submitted a privilege log listing several withheld and redacted communications along with the requested documents American Oversight moved to compel the Senate to produce the withheld records. The trial court rejected the Senate's legislative privilege claim and granted the motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Gravel/Fields framework requires that the Senate only disclose communications concerning administrative, political, or other non-legislative matters. View "Fann v. Honorable Kemp" 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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A Maryland law requiring newspapers, among other platforms, to publish on their websites, as well as retain for state inspection, certain information about the political ads they decide to carry, violates the First amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunctive relief awarded by the district court and explained that, while Maryland's law tries to serve important aims, the state has gone about this task in too circuitous and burdensome a manner to satisfy constitutional scrutiny. The court agreed with the district court that the law is a content-based law that targets political speech and compels newspapers, among other platforms, to carry certain messages on their websites. The court declined to decide whether strict or exacting scrutiny should apply to a disclosure law like the one at issue, and held that the law failed under the more forgiving exact scrutiny standard. View "The Washington Post v. McManus" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs submitted proposed ballot initiatives to the Portage County Board of Elections that would effectively decriminalize marijuana possession in Garrettsville and Windham, Ohio. The Board declined to certify the proposed initiatives, concluding that the initiatives fell outside the scope of the municipalities’ legislative authority. Plaintiffs sued, asserting that the statutes governing Ohio’s municipal ballot-initiative process impose a prior restraint on their political speech, violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The district court permanently enjoined the Board of Elections and the Ohio Secretary of State, from enforcing the statutes in any manner that failed to provide for adequate judicial review. The Sixth Circuit vacated the injunction. A person or party may express beliefs or ideas through a ballot, but ballots serve primarily to elect candidates, not as forums for political expression. Heightened procedural requirements imposed on systems of prior restraint are inappropriate in the context of ballot-initiative preclearance regulations. The court applied the “Anderson-Burdick” framework and weighted the character and magnitude of the burden the state’s rule against the interests the state contends justify that burden and considered the extent to which the state’s concerns make the burden necessary. The state affords aggrieved ballot-initiative proponents adequate procedural rights through the availability of mandamus relief in the state courts. View "Schmitt v. LaRose" on Justia Law

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In October 2014, Kentucky Educational Television (KET) hosted a debate between the candidates for one of Kentucky’s seats in the U.S. Senate. KET limited the debate to candidates who qualified for the ballot, had collected at least $100,000 in campaign contributions, and had an independent poll indicating that at least one in 10 Kentuckians planned to vote for them. The criteria excluded Patterson, the Libertarian Party candidate. The district court rejected a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 by Patterson and the Party, noting that, with relatively few limits, KET could invite to its debates whomever it wanted. KET was not required to create—let alone publish—any criteria at all. KET restricted who could appear in a televised debate, not on the ballot. The debate criteria had nothing to do with a candidate’s views; rather, they measured whether voters had shown an objective interest in hearing the candidate. View "Libertarian National Committee, Inc. v. Holiday" on Justia Law

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During a campaign rally at Louisville’s Kentucky International Convention Center, then-candidate Trump spoke for 35 minutes. Plaintiffs attended the rally with the intention of peacefully protesting. Protesters’ actions during Trump’s video-recorded address precipitated directions from Trump on five different occasions to “get ’em out of here.” Members of the audience assaulted, pushed and shoved plaintiffs. Plaintiff Brousseau was punched in the stomach. Defendants Heimbach and Bamberger participated in the assaults. Plaintiffs sued Trump, the campaign, Heimbach, Bamberger, and an unknown woman who punched Brousseau, for battery, assault, incitement to riot, negligence, gross negligence and recklessness. The district court dismissed claims against the Trump defendants alleging they were vicariously liable for the actions of Heimbach, Bamberger and the unknown woman, and dismissed a negligent-speech theory as “incompatible with the First Amendment” but refused to dismiss the incitement-to-riot claims. On interlocutory appeal, the Sixth Circuit found that the claim should be dismissed. Plaintiffs have not stated a valid claim under Kentucky law, given the elements of “incitement to riot.” Trump’s speech enjoys First Amendment protection because he did not specifically advocate imminent lawless action. Trump’s “get ’em out of here” statement, closely followed by, “Don’t hurt ’em,” cannot be interpreted as advocating a riot or the use of any violence. View "Nwanguma v. Trump" on Justia Law

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Minnesota law prohibits wearing a “political badge, political button, or other political insignia” inside a polling place on Election Day, Minn. Stat. 211B.11(1), including clothing and accessories with political insignia. Election judges are authorized to decide whether a particular item is banned. Days before the 2010 election, plaintiffs challenged the ban. In response, the state distributed guidance with specific examples of prohibited apparel: items displaying the name of a political party or the name of a candidate, items supporting or opposing a ballot question, “[i]ssue oriented material designed to influence or impact voting,” and “[m]aterial promoting a group with recognizable political views.” Cilek allegedly was turned away from the polls for wearing a “Please I.D. Me” button, a “Don’t Tread on Me” T-shirt, and a Tea Party Patriots logo. The Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit’s rejection of the constitutional challenges. Minnesota’s political apparel ban violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause. Because the ban applies only in a “nonpublic forum,” its content-based restrictions would be constitutional if “reasonable and not an effort to suppress expression merely because public officials oppose the speaker’s view,” The statute makes no distinction based on the speaker’s political persuasion and serves a permissible objective: to set aside polling places as “an island of calm.” The state may reasonably decide that the interior of the polling place should reflect the distinction between voting and campaigning. However, the “unmoored use of the term “political” in the Minnesota law, combined with haphazard interpretations" render the law unconstitutional for lack of narrow tailoring to serve that objective. Its indeterminate prohibitions present “[t]he opportunity for abuse, especially where [it] has received a virtually open-ended interpretation.” An election judge’s own politics may shape his views on what is “political.” View "Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky" on Justia Law

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Under Missouri campaign finance law, chapter 130, a “campaign committee” is formed to receive contributions or make expenditures solely to support or oppose particular ballot measures, "such committee shall be formed no later than thirty days prior to the election for which the committee receives contributions or makes expenditures." Thirteen days before the November 2014 general election, a group formed MFA as a campaign committee, to accept contributions and make expenditures in support of Proposition 10. MFA sued to enjoin enforcement of the formation deadline, citing the First Amendment. The district court granted MFA a temporary restraining order. MFA received contributions and made expenditures before the election. After the election, MFA terminated as a campaign committee. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of MFA. While a formation deadline by itself might not expressly limit speech, the deadline here is more than a disclosure requirement because it prohibits (or significantly burdens) formation of a campaign committee, a requisite for legally engaging in speech, even if the individual or group is willing to comply with organizational and disclosure requirements. Even if the state’s interest in preventing circumvention of chapter 130’s disclosure regime is compelling, the formation deadline is unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored, given its burden on speech and its modest effect on preventing circumvention of the disclosure regime. View "Missourians for Fiscal Accountability v. Klahr" on Justia Law

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Under Missouri campaign finance law, chapter 130, a “campaign committee” is formed to receive contributions or make expenditures solely to support or oppose particular ballot measures, "such committee shall be formed no later than thirty days prior to the election for which the committee receives contributions or makes expenditures." Thirteen days before the November 2014 general election, a group formed MFA as a campaign committee, to accept contributions and make expenditures in support of Proposition 10. MFA sued to enjoin enforcement of the formation deadline, citing the First Amendment. The district court granted MFA a temporary restraining order. MFA received contributions and made expenditures before the election. After the election, MFA terminated as a campaign committee. The Eighth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of MFA. While a formation deadline by itself might not expressly limit speech, the deadline here is more than a disclosure requirement because it prohibits (or significantly burdens) formation of a campaign committee, a requisite for legally engaging in speech, even if the individual or group is willing to comply with organizational and disclosure requirements. Even if the state’s interest in preventing circumvention of chapter 130’s disclosure regime is compelling, the formation deadline is unconstitutional because it is not narrowly tailored, given its burden on speech and its modest effect on preventing circumvention of the disclosure regime. View "Missourians for Fiscal Accountability v. Klahr" on Justia Law