“Seventh Circuit Rules Against Expanding Territorial Voting Rights”

Release:

Late yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled against expanding territorial voting rights in Segovia v. United States.  The case presented an equal protection challenge by plaintiffs in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who would be able to absentee vote for President and voting representation in Congress if they lived in other U.S. territories or a foreign country, but are denied such rights based solely on their ZIP code.

In a surprising move, the panel concluded that plaintiffs lacked legal standing to even challenge federal overseas voting laws, a potentially far-reaching conclusion that has previously been rejected by other courts. On the merits, the panel concluded that state overseas voting laws may constitutionally extend absentee voting rights to residents of American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands while withholding them from residents of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The panel also embraced the suggestion of the Trump Administration that even if a constitutional violation was found, the remedy would be to contract rather than expand voting rights in U.S. territories….

Plaintiffs will make a decision whether to appeal the Seventh Circuit’s decision to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks. They have until April 18, 2018 to petition the Supreme Court to review the case.

From the unanimous 7th Circuit opinion:

This is a strange case. The plaintiffs seek the right to con‐ tinue to vote in federal elections in Illinois even though they are now residents of United States territories. In effect, the plaintiffs are upset that the territories to which they moved are considered under federal and state law to be part of the United States rather than overseas. They would like overseas voting rights while still living within the United States. No court has ever held that they are so entitled, and we will not be the first.

We hold that the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the federal UOCAVA because their injury derives not from the federal statute, but from the failure of Illinois law to guarantee them absentee ballots. So we VACATE the portion of the dis‐ trict court’s judgment in favor of the federal defendants and REMAND the case with instructions to dismiss the claims against the federal defendants for want of jurisdiction. With respect to the state defendants, however, we AFFIRM the portion of the judgment below that the Illinois law does not vio‐ late the Equal Protection Clause or the due‐process right to interstate travel.

 

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