Stein v. AL Secretary of State, No. 13-15556 (11th Cir. 2014)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Alabama's ballot access statute violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The court concluded that the district court properly granted summary judgment to the Secretary and adopted much of the district court's reasoning contained in its memorandum opinion and order. The court held that plaintiffs' constitutional claims failed where plaintiffs did not present evidence showing that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the State's restrictions on petition-based ballot access unconstitutionally burdens their associational rights. Rather, the burden on plaintiffs was slight, and the State's interests in treating all political parties fairly and in setting a deadline that provides sufficient time to verify the petition signatures outweigh the burden to plaintiffs' associational rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment.

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Case: 13-15556 Date Filed: 12/16/2014 Page: 1 of 29 [PUBLISH] IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT ________________________ No. 13-15556 ________________________ D.C. Docket No. 2:12-cv-00042-WKW-CSC JILL STEIN, ALABAMA GREEN PARTY, ROBERT COLLINS, CONSTITUTION PARTY OF ALABAMA, JOSHUA CASSITY, STEVEN KNEUSSLE, LIBERTARIAN PARTY OF ALABAMA, MARK BODENHAUSEN, VICKI KIRKLAND, GARY JOHNSON, Governor, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, Plaintiffs - Appellants, MATTHEW HELLINGER, Plaintiff, versus ALABAMA SECRETARY OF STATE, Defendant - Appellee. Case: 13-15556 Date Filed: 12/16/2014 Page: 2 of 29 ________________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama ________________________ (December 16, 2014) Before HULL, MARCUS, and DUBINA, Circuit Judges. PER CURIAM: In this ballot access case, we consider whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the Alabama Secretary of State on the Plaintiffs’ claim, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that Alabama’s ballot access statute violates their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. After reviewing the record and having the benefit of oral argument, we affirm the district court’s judgment. I. BACKGROUND Alabama law provides that political parties must qualify to appear on the general election ballot, and they may do so by either performance or petition. The performance option grants statewide ballot access to parties that received at least twenty percent of the votes cast for any state officer in the last general election. Ala. Code § 17-13-40. This is how the Republican and Democratic Parties, for example, obtain ballot access. For parties that do not qualify based on performance, the petition option is available. To qualify by this method, parties must submit the signatures of 2 Case: 13-15556 Date Filed: 12/16/2014 Page: 3 of 29 registered voters totaling at least three percent of the votes cast for the governor in the last general election, and they must do so by the date of the first primary for the general election. Id. § 17-6-22(a). The primary election date in presidentialelection years is March; otherwise, the deadline is in June. See id. § 17-13-3. In January 2012, the Plaintiffs 1 filed suit against the Alabama Secretary of State, alleging that the State’s ballot-access laws were unconstitutional, both facially and as applied, with respect to presidential candidates. 2 The record reveals that the Plaintiffs filed suit despite having made no significant effort to secure the number of signatures needed to qualify for ballot access by petition. 3 The Plaintiffs later filed an amended complaint, focusing their allegations on Alabama’s disparate ballot-access requirements for political parties and independents that seek to qualify by petition. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and on September 5, 2013, the district court granted the State’s motion and denied the Plaintiffs’ motion. Plaintiffs timely moved for 1 The Plaintiffs are three political parties that did not qualify for ballot access in the State’s general election under § 17-13-40—Alabama Green Party, Constitution Party of Alabama, and Libertarian Party of Alabama—as well as seven individuals—Jill Stein, Robert Collins, Joshua Cassity, Steven Kneussle, Mark Bodenhausen, Vicki Kirkland, and Gary Johnson—who were either a party nominee for the Office of the President of the United States or a citizen interested in voting for such a nominee in the State’s 2012 general election. 2 In their initial complaint, the Plaintiffs sought injunctive relief. The district court denied their request, and the Plaintiffs did not appeal that order. 3 For the 2012 general election, political parties seeking ballot access had until early March to submit their petitions containing the signatures of 44,828 registered voters (three percent of the 1,494,273 votes cast for governor in the 2010 general election). 3 Case: 13-15556 Date Filed: 12/16/2014 Page: 4 of 29 reconsideration pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), and the district court denied the motion. Plaintiffs timely appealed. II. STANDARD OF REVIEW “This Court reviews a district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same legal standards used by the district court.” Seff v. Broward Cnty., Fla., 691 F.3d 1221, 1222–23 (11th Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). III. DISCUSSION We conclude that the district court properly granted summary judgment to the Alabama Secretary of State, and we adopt much of the district court’s reasoning contained in its memorandum opinion and order. However, we add to its thorough analysis that neither the Supreme Court nor this court has articulated a clear standard of review for challenges to ballot-access restrictions in a presidential election. We note that nothing in this opinion does so. At the same time, we recognize that “the State has a less important interest in regulating Presidential elections than statewide or local elections, because the outcome of the former will be largely determined by voters beyond the State’s boundaries.” Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780, 795, 103 S. Ct. 1564, 1573 (1983). Regardless, based on the record in this case, we hold that the Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims fail. Like the district court, we conclude that the Plaintiffs 4 Case: 13-15556 Date Filed: 12/16/2014 Page: 5 of 29 did not present evidence showing that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for the State’s restrictions on petition-based ballot access unconstitutionally burdens their associational rights. Rather, the record shows that the burden on the Plaintiffs was slight. Thus, the State’s interests in treating all political parties fairly and in setting a deadline that provides sufficient time to verify the petition signatures outweigh the burden to the Plaintiffs’ associational rights. Accordingly, for these reasons and for the reasons stated in the district court’s well-reasoned memorandum opinion and order filed on September 5, 2013, which we adopt and attach hereto as an appendix, we affirm the grant of summary judgment to the Alabama Secretary of State. 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