Texas League of United Latin American Citizens v. Hughs, No. 20-50867 (5th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Fifth Circuit granted the Secretary's emergency motion for stay pending appeal of the district court's order enjoining the Secretary and local officials from enforcing Governor Abbot's October 1, 2020 Proclamation which restricted hand-delivering mail ballots to a single designated early voting clerk's office. The Proclamation left in place the previous forty-day expansion for delivering mail-in ballots and the always-available option of the U.S. mail.
The court considered the Nken factors in determining whether to grant a stay and held that the Secretary has made a strong showing that she will likely succeed on the merits, because the district court erred in analyzing plaintiffs' voting rights and equal protection claims. Assuming that the Anderson-Burdick balancing framework applies, the court concluded that the district court erred in applying it to the voting rights claim where the district court vastly overstated the "character and magnitude" of the burden allegedly placed on voting rights by the Proclamation. Rather, the Proclamation is part of the Governor's expansion of opportunities to cast an absentee ballot in Texas well beyond the stricter confines of the Election Code. Furthermore, the district court undervalued the state interests furthered by the Proclamation in ballot security, election uniformity, and avoiding voter confusion. In regard to the equal protection claims, the court concluded that the district court misconstrued the nature of the alleged burden imposed by the Proclamation. The court explained that the proclamation establishes a uniform rule for the entire State: each county may designate one early voting clerk's office at which voters may drop off mail ballots during the forty days leading up to the election. That voters who live further away from a drop-off location may find it inconvenient to take advantage of this particular, additional method to cast their ballots does not limit electoral opportunity. Therefore, the Secretary is likely to show that the Proclamation does not impermissibly classify voters based on county of residence, and a state's important regulatory interests are generally sufficient to justify reasonable, nondiscriminatory voting regulations. Finally, the court held that the remaining Nken factors favored a stay where the Secretary has shown irreparable harm absent a stay; the balancing of harms weighs in favor of the state officials; and the public interest favors the Secretary.