Common Cause Indiana v. Marion County Election Board, No. 18-2735 (7th Cir. 2019)

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Justia Opinion Summary

Indiana counties maintain three‐member election boards: the circuit court clerk and two individuals the clerk appoints, one from each major political party. Marion County used a precinct‐based voting system; its Election Board could establish in‐person early voting “satellite offices” annually by unanimous vote. The Board approved in‐person early voting offices for the 2008 presidential election. It did not approve any satellite offices for 2010, 2012, 2014, or 2016; each year, the two Democrat Board members voted in favor of opening satellite offices, while the Republican Board member voted against. A suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleged that the application of the unanimity requirement and the Republican member’s decision to withhold consent burdened voters’ rights to cast early votes without any relationship to a legitimate government interest. The district court entered a Consent Decree. The Board agreed to establish in‐person early voting satellite offices going forward. The Decree did not address any underlying issues of law. The court denied Indiana’s motion to alter the Decree, finding the Board unanimously ratified the Decree, and that the Decree “was necessary to remedy a probable violation of federal law.” The Board then voted unanimously to replace precinct‐based voting with a vote center plan, with two in‐person early voting satellite offices for primary elections and six for general and municipal elections. Indiana argued the appeal was not moot because the Decree was still in effect. Both sides agreed that the Decree should no longer be in effect. The Seventh Circuit vacated the Decree, declining to address whether the court had authority to enter it, and remanded with instructions to dismiss.

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In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 18 2735 COMMON CAUSE INDIANA, et al., Plaintiffs Appellees, v. MARION COUNTY ELECTION BOARD, et al., Defendants. APPEAL OF: STATE OF INDIANA ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 17 cv 01388 — Sarah Evans Barker, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED MAY 21, 2019 — DECIDED JUNE 3, 2019 ____________________ Before FLAUM, KANNE, and SYKES, Circuit Judges. FLAUM, Circuit Judge. Indiana counties must maintain a three member election board, made up of the circuit court clerk and two individuals the clerk appoints, one “from each of the major political parties of the county.” Ind. Code § 3 6 5 2. The board makes various decisions about a county’s vot ing system, including rules for in person early voting. 2 No. 18 2735 Until December 2018, Marion County used a precinct based voting system. Under that scheme, the Marion County Election Board (the “Board”) could establish in person early voting “satellite o ces” each year by unanimous vote. See id. § 3 11 10 26.3 (the “Satellite O ce Provision”). A satellite of fice resolution “expires January 1 of the year immediately af ter the year in which the resolution is adopted.” Id. § 3 11 10 26.3(i). The Board approved in person early voting satellite o ces for the 2008 presidential election. It did not approve any satellite o ces for the 2010, 2012, 2014, or 2016 elections; each year, the two Democrat Board members voted in favor of opening satellite o ces, while the one Republican Board member voted against. In May 2017, Common Cause Indiana, the Greater Indian apolis Branch of the NAACP, and two Marion County regis tered voters sued the Board and its members in their o cial capacities pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plainti s alleged the Board’s decision to not approve in person early voting satel lite o ces from 2010 to 2016—and more specifically, the ap plication of the Satellite O ce Provision’s unanimity require ment and the Republican Board member’s decision to with hold consent—burdened voters’ rights to cast early votes without any relationship to a legitimate government interest, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments and Sec tion 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Indiana moved to in tervene, arguing plainti s’ complaint “calls into question the federal and state constitutional validity” of the Satellite O ce Provision. The district court issued a conditional grant, allow ing Indiana to attend a settlement conference, challenge a set tlement agreement at a fairness hearing, and seek permission to appeal any approved settlement. No. 18 2735 3 On April 25, 2018, the district court granted plainti s’ mo tion for a preliminary injunction, ordering the Board to estab lish two in person early voting satellite o ces for the Novem ber 2018 election. Soon thereafter, on July 10, 2018, the district court entered a Consent Decree (the “Decree”). The Board agreed to establish five in person early voting satellite o ces for the 2018 general election, and going forward, a minimum of two satellite o ces for primary elections and five satellite o ces for general and municipal elections. The Decree did not address any underlying issues of law, other than to note that the district court, in its preliminary injunction ruling, held that plainti s made a prima facie showing of likelihood of success on the merits. On July 25, the Board unanimously adopted two resolutions. The first ratified the Decree and acknowledged the Board’s intent to comply with the Decree’s terms. In the second, the Board approved the establishment of six satellite o ces for the 2018 general election. On August 7, 2018, Indiana filed a motion to alter or amend the Decree. It argued the Decree is contrary to Indiana law because there was “no finding in the Consent Decree that the Board voted unanimously to establish additional satellite voting for 2019 and beyond.” Indiana also maintained that be cause the Decree had no end date, it precluded future Board members from exercising their statutory authority to vote against establishing satellite o ces and e ectively disre garded the Satellite O ce Provision’s unanimity require ment. The district court denied Indiana’s motion, finding the Board unanimously ratified the Decree, and concluding that even if it hadn’t, the Decree “was necessary to remedy a prob able violation of federal law.” Indiana filed a notice of appeal. 4 No. 18 2735 After Indiana submitted its opening appellate brief, the Board changed the legal paradigm governing Marion County’s voting scheme, replacing the precinct based struc ture with a vote center plan. The vote center plan specifies that Marion County will have two in person early voting satellite o ces for primary elections and six in person early voting satellite o ces for general and municipal elections. See Ind. Code § 3 11 18.1 4(17) (a vote center plan must include “[t]he total number and locations of satellite o ces to be established under [the Satellite O ce Provision] at vote center loca tions”). As statutorily required, the Board voted unanimously to adopt the vote center plan, see id. § 3 11 18.1 3(f), and Mar ion County o cially became a vote center county on Decem ber 6, 2018. Plainti s and the Board (“joint appellees”) then moved to dismiss Indiana’s appeal as moot. They argue the vote center plan moots the Consent Decree and Indiana’s appeal because to make any change—including to in person early voting sat ellite o ces—the Board must unanimously agree to amend the plan or rescind Marion County’s vote center status. See id. §§ 3 11 18.1 8(c); 3 11 18.1 15(b). Thus, according to joint ap pellees, the plan “guarantees that the partisan considerations underlying the consent decree will not infect, or be a basis, for reducing voters’ access to early in person voting.” They ask that we remand to the district court with instructions to vacate the Consent Decree and dismiss the case. Indiana does not believe the appeal is moot because the Consent Decree is still in e ect. It contends the district court did not have authority to enter the Consent Decree in the first place and therefore asks that we vacate the Decree on the mer its. However, Indiana “does not disagree with the Board and No. 18 2735 5 Common Cause that, under the Board’s new vote center plan, the consent decree is unnecessary.” It acknowledges that its “main objective with [its] appeal is vacatur of the consent de cree,” and “[w]hether that occurs because the State prevails on the merits, because the case is moot, or merely because the parties voluntarily agree to vacatur is unimportant.” And at oral argument, Indiana reiterated this view, stating that “as long as the Consent Decree is vacated, [it] will be happy with that end result.” In short, Indiana asks us to vacate the Decree, while joint appellees ask us to remand to the district court with instruc tions to vacate. Though the result they seek di ers slightly, in essence, they seek the same relief: a vacatur of the Consent Decree. Indeed, at oral argument, the Board’s counsel recog nized that “whether the district court is ordered to vacate the Consent Decree or this Court vacates the Consent Decree on its own … makes no practical di erence.” Because both sides ultimately agree that the Decree should no longer be in e ect, we have no need to address whether the district court had au thority to enter the Decree. And we need not remand the case to the district court for vacatur. Given our authority to vacate district court judgments—including consent decrees—we can and should vacate the Decree ourselves. See 28 U.S.C. § 2106; cf. Frank v. Walker, 819 F.3d 384, 385 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing United States v. Munsingwear, Inc., 340 U.S. 36 (1950)). Accordingly, we VACATE the Consent Decree and REMAND to the district court with instructions to dismiss the case.
Primary Holding
Seventh Circuit vacates a Consent Decree requiring Marion County to establish in‐person early voting satellite offices after the County Election Board votes unanimously to do so.

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