Monthly Archives: May 2018

“Virginia Supreme Court upholds 11 challenged state legislative districts”

Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The Supreme Court of Virginia declined to set aside a ruling that upheld 11 General Assembly districts that were challenged as being designed for political purposes.

In the Thursday ruling, the state’s high court upheld a March ruling by Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant.

Redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021 brought the lawsuit and both rulings are a setback for those who want to take politics out of district line drawing, which is done by the Virginia General Assembly and approved by the governor.

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“Trump Lawyers at Jones Day Resist Discovery Demand in DNC Hack Suit”

NLJ:

President Donald Trump’s campaign lawyers at Jones Day pushed back Thursday against a nonprofit group’s pursuit of documents related to the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee, assailing the request as a “last-ditch effort to launch a fishing expedition into the president’s and the campaign’s files.”

The new court filing by the Trump campaign’s outside legal team came in response to a lawsuit alleging that the Trump campaign and one of its high-profile informal advisers, Roger Stone, conspired with Russia and WikiLeaks to publicly release emails stolen from Democratic National Committee servers in the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit, organized by the nonprofit Protect Democracy Project and filed in Washington federal district court, claims the release of the emails caused emotional stress and harm to a pair of DNC donors and a former staff member of the committee—all named plaintiffs in the case—whose emails and sensitive personal information were obtained in the breach.

The Jones Day legal team, including partner Michael Carvin, said the discovery process would interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Robert Mueller III, the special counsel leading the investigation, would be forced to coordinate “not just with congressional committees but also with these private plaintiffs.”

“Discovery also threatens to prejudice individuals who have been or will be indicted, by potentially requiring them to sit for civil depositions despite their privilege against self-incrimination,” Carvin wrote.

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“Appeals court yet to rule on Wisconsin voter ID and other election laws after 16 months”

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

More than a year after hearing arguments, a federal appeals court has yet to rule on a host of Wisconsin voting laws, including aspects of the state’s voter ID statute.

The long delay has left some scratching their heads and raised questions about whether the court will act before this year’s elections, including the fast-approaching Aug. 14 primary.

“It is rare but not unprecedented for a case to take this long,” said Joshua Douglas, a University of Kentucky College of Law professor. “I do think it’s very weird and I’m very surprised it has taken this long.”

What’s at issue has only grown more complicated. In one recent development, the state sued a voting rights group to try to prevent it from contacting voters who have had difficulty getting free state IDs….

Typically, courts don’t like to change voting rules close to an election, but Douglas, Stephanopoulos and Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said they believed there was still time for the appeals court to act this election cycle.

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“Trump says he will pardon Dinesh D’Souza, an Obama critic who violated campaign limits”

USA Today:

 President Trump said Thursday he would pardon conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, convicted in 2014 of making illegal campaign contributions.

“Will be giving a Full Pardon to Dinesh D’Souza today. He was treated very unfairly by our government!” Trump tweeted Thursday as he headed to Texas.

D’Souza is serving five years probation for making illegal campaign contributions in the names of others to support the candidacy of Republican New York Senate candidate Wendy Long, who lost to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Those straw donations allowed him to give $20,000 in illegal contributions to the campaign, exceeding the $5,000 legal limit.

D’Souza pleaded guilty to the charge. And though he argued that he was being selectively prosecuted because of his attacks on President Barack Obama, he later backed off the claim at his sentencing.

“I’m sorry for what I did. I have never said otherwise,” he said. “I have never even said I am being selectively prosecuted. I feared that I was being.”

The D’Souza pardon would continue Trump’s use of clemency power to correct what he perceives as unjust, politically motivated prosecutions. But they also come amid investigations into his own campaign and inner circle — including a probe into whether his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, violated the law when he illegally paid off a porn star who said she had a relationship with Trump.

Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine law professor who specializes in election law, said the pardon sends “yet another signal to Michael Cohen and others about the possibility of a Trump pardon — and this one, like potentially Cohen’s case — involves campaign finance violations.”

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Bill Whitford on District-Specific Gerrymandering Claims

The following is a guest post from Bill Whitford, a retired law professor at the University of Wisconsin and the lead plaintiff in Gill v. Whitford:

Richard Pildes recently suggested that while the Supreme Court may begin subjecting partisan gerrymanders to constitutional restraints, it will require an evaluation of partisan excess that proceeds on a district-by-district basis.  In our case, Gill v.Whitford, we have proposed a statewide analysis that compares statewide votes to seats.  At first glance it may appear that a district-by-district approach would be a less intrusive limitation on what has traditionally been a legislative function (redistricting).  In fact, a district-by-district approach will involve the courts in many of the problems that historically made them reluctant to place constitutional restraints on partisan gerrymanders, and to a much greater degree than if the courts proceeded on a statewide analysis.

A district-by-district approach to state legislative apportionments invites proponents of the disadvantaged party (Democrats in Wisconsin) to challenge many districts, in order to flip party control in the legislature.  The latter is the only thing that really matters in determining legislative output.  That in turn is going to place a tremendous burden on trial courts, all of whom will be three judge district courts.  Either there will be many separate cases, or one massive case involving many districts (at least 20 districts in Wisconsin).  Each case will have to get into the details of how the district lines of particular districts were chosen, what alternatives were rejected, and so forth.  I can easily imagine two days of trial time per district (one day per side to present evidence), but suppose we cut that estimate in half.  That still leaves a 3 to 4 week trial, with three judges who will not be able to work on other cases during that period.  That presents a very concrete manageability issue at the trial court level.

Furthermore, there aren’t clear ways to evaluate whether a single district is a partisan gerrymander.  Just because the district is flipped from one party to another shows little, as it may be part of an effort to correct a previous gerrymander.  Moreover, one district’s lines are also the lines of other districts, and so some kind of statewide analysis will be needed just to decide whether the apportionment of one district represents an excess partisan gerrymander or rather a necessary accommodation for legitimate redistricting concerns elsewhere in the State.  Because the standard for so deciding specific district cases is necessarily subjective, there is great likelihood that each judicial result will be evaluated, by both scholarly and popular commentary, as a product of the judges’ political allegiances.  This is precisely the concern that Chief Judge Roberts expressed at oral argument in our case.  Under a statewide approach, there are more objective tests of excessive partisanship, such as the efficiency gap, the mean-median difference, and comparison of the votes/seats mismatch with the votes/seats ratios of randomly drawn computer maps using non-partisan criteria.

Finally, precisely because the standard used under a district-by-district analysis is necessarily subjective, there is very likely to be a plausible appeal directly to the Supreme Court in almost every case.  The Court has already experienced this in the racial gerrymandering cases. The Court can avoid hearing these cases only by summarily affirming the trial court (or in a few cases by summarily reversing).  But because these cases bring with them intense political interest, and often significant consequences, summary disposition will often be difficult.  This is not good for the Supreme Court’s workload.  It may present a real manageability issue at the Supreme Court level.

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“Trump to appear at fundraiser for allied super PAC”

Politico:

Trump is expected to address America First Action’s leadership summit, according to the super PAC’s president, Brian Walsh. The president is slated to speak on the second night of the two-day conference, to be held June 18-19 at Trump International Hotel in Washington.

While the president has lent his support to the group and appeared at benefit dinners for America First Action’s backers, he has yet to appear at a fundraiser for it. Under federal law, Trump can only ask for donations of up to $5,000 for any super PAC, though he can appear at the event.

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Partisan Gerrymandering of Judicial Election Districts Coming to North Carolina?

This can’t be good.

The way Mecklenburg County voters choose judges would change dramatically under a bill that passed the North Carolina Senate Wednesday and appears to be moving quickly through the General Assembly.

The county’s eight Superior Court judges, now elected from three districts, would run in eight under the bill. And the county’s 21 District judges, now elected countywide, also would be elected from those eight districts….

The legislation is the latest in a string of actual and proposed changes to state courts by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Lawmakers have shrunk the state court of appeals, put party labels on judicial races, eliminated public financing for court elections and done away with this year’s judicial primaries. They’ve also talked about appointing rather than electing judges, redrawing districts across the state and shrinking judicial terms — now as long as eight years — to two.

One national analyst said nowhere in America were so many changes coming to courts in such a relatively short time.

Bishop and Tarte point to the disparity in size of Superior Court districts.

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“Maine GOP must use ranked-choice voting in primary, judge rules”

Bangor Daily News:

 A federal judge on Tuesday threw out the Maine Republican Party’s last-ditch bid to decide its primaries by a plurality of votes, ensuring that both parties will use ranked-choice voting in four different races in the June election.

The 20-page decision from U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy was the last legal hurdle that Maine’s voter-approved ranked-choice voting system had to clear before the June 12 primaries, where an open governor’s seat attracted seven Democratic candidates and four Republicans.

After a vote at their state convention in early May, Republicans sued Secretary of State Matt Dunlap to prevent the method from use in their primaries, saying it infringed on the party’s association rights. But state attorneys representing Dunlap called the lawsuit disruptive.

Levy agreed with the state on Tuesday, saying that Maine’s reasons for regulating primaries “are rational and survive constitutional scrutiny” and that if he adhered to Republicans’ stance, the state would have to “permit each political party to dictate how its primary ballots will be constructed and counted.”

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“Voter ID lawsuit: Civil rights group, ISU student to sue Iowa secretary of state”

Des Moines Register:

A civil rights organization and an Iowa State University student is suing Iowa’s secretary of state over a voter ID law they say infringes on Iowans’ ability to fairly cast a ballot.

The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa and ISU student Taylor Blair announced Wednesday morning that they are filing a lawsuit in Polk County District Court….

Pate released a statement defending the law against what he called a “baseless and politically motivated lawsuit,” which he alleged was “apparently timed to disrupt the June 5 primary elections.” He said the law has adequate safeguards to protect voters’ rights.

The plaintiffs also are seeking a preliminary injunction to block most provisions of the law from taking effect while the lawsuit is ongoing — potentially halting its enforcement during next week’s June 5 primary election….

In Facebook advertisements, the suit alleges Pate has said “Iowa voters will be asked to show a form of valid identification,” implying that such identification will be required to vote in 2018.

In fact, the law is in a “soft rollout” phase. Through the end of this year, eligible voters who do not have a valid form of ID will be asked to sign a form swearing to their identity. They can then cast a normal ballot.

And the plaintiffs accuse Pate of omitting some forms of identification allowed under the law, like an out of state driver’s license or an Iowa student identification presented with proof of address, on an FAQ page on the secretary of state’s website.

The information promoted by the secretary of state’s office will discourage voters who mistakenly believe they cannot vote this year unless they possess a valid form of identification, and add to poll-worker error that could disenfranchise voters, the suit argues.

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“With election days away, California’s top political ethics cop abruptly quits”

SacBee:

The head of California’s campaign watchdog agency resigned her position on Tuesday.

Jodi Remke, who Gov. Jerry Brown appointed in 2014, stepped down as the chair of the Fair Political Practices Commission amid ongoing turmoil.

She often verbally sparred at public meetings with other commissioners, who were leading an effort to reduce her leadership role. The five-member commission was expected to vote next week to finalize a new power structure….

Wierenga said Remke accepted a new position as the presiding administrative law judge for appellate operations for the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

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