Friday, July 25, 2008

State Appeals Court Upholds Fahrenholtz's Disqualification

In a 5-to-5 decision, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal has affirmed the trial court's disqualification of Jimmy Fahrenholtz from the Second District Congressional race. The opinion can be found here. The dissents can be found here and here. Since the court could not render a majority decree, the decree was issued in a separate per curiam opinion.

The court ruled that the state's ban on Congressional candidacy by people who owe campaign finance fines does not add a substantial qualification for Congressional candidates. Instead, they likened the ban to the "times, places, and manner" restrictions which states may enact for Congressional elections. They quoted U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton in which the U.S. Supreme Court said that “[s]tates are entitled to adopt ‘generally applicable and evenhanded restrictions that protect the integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself.’”

However, the "times, places, and manner" restrictions and the sorts of restrictions condoned in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. are nothing like Louisiana's ban on candidacy by people who owe campaign finance fines. In U.S. Term Limits, Inc. (immediately after the quote cited in the Fourth Circuit's ruling), the Supreme Court gave examples of "generally applicable and evenhanded restrictions that protect the integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself" and which had been approved by the Court previously. Here's the full quotation (I've removed the citations in order to make it more readable, but they can be found in the full text):

States are thus entitled to adopt "generally applicable and evenhanded restrictions that protect the integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself." For example, in Storer v. Brown, the case on which petitioners place principal reliance, we upheld the validity of certain provisions of the California Election Code. In so doing, we emphasized the States' interest in having orderly, fair, and honest elections "rather than chaos." We also recognized the "States' strong interest in maintaining the integrity of the political process by preventing interparty raiding," and explained that the specific requirements applicable to independents were "expressive of a general state policy aimed at maintaining the integrity of the various routes to the ballot." In other cases, we have approved the States' interests in avoiding "voter confusion, ballot overcrowding, or the presence of frivolous candidacies," in "seeking to assure that elections are operated equitably and efficiently," and in "guard[ing] against irregularity and error in the tabulation of votes." In short, we have approved of state regulations designed to ensure that elections are "`fair and honest and . . . [that] some sort of order, rather than chaos, . . . accompan[ies] the democratic processes.'"

Clearly, the Supreme Court was talking about procedural restrictions necessary to conduct elections in an orderly and fair manner. They were not talking about bans on particular classes of candidates.

They went on to say:

The provisions at issue in Storer and our other Elections Clause cases were thus constitutional because they regulated election procedures and did not even arguably impose any substantive qualification rendering a class of potential candidates ineligible for ballot position. They served the state interest in protecting the integrity and regularity of the election process, an interest independent of any attempt to evade the constitutional prohibition against the imposition of additional qualifications for service in Congress. And they did not involve measures that exclude candidates from the ballot without reference to the candidates' support in the electoral process. Our cases upholding state regulations of election procedures thus provide little support for the contention that a state-imposed ballot access restriction is constitutional when it is undertaken for the twin goals of disadvantaging a particular class of candidates and evading the dictates of the Qualifications Clauses.

The Fourth Circuit court claimed that the Louisiana statute in question was a constitutionally-allowed restriction because it "enforces legitimate state interests in governing campaign finance and a duty to protect the integrity of the political process."

I can understand the connection they're trying to make between campaign finance law and "fair and honest" elections, but this sort of ban is far outside the scope of the procedural restrictions that the Supreme Court was talking about.

The Supremes were approving state measures aimed at making sure that the ACTUAL BALLOTING was done in a fair and orderly way. They were not saying that ANY law aimed at reforming the political culture was okay.

The Louisiana court was just wrong on this matter. I am relieved to see how close the decision was. Judge Tobias' opinion (especially his analysis of how Powell v. McCormack and U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton apply to the Fahrenholtz case) should have carried the day.

Fahrenholtz has said that he intends to seek reinstatement of his candidacy by a federal court. As Clancy DuBos has pointed out, this case should have already been removed to federal court, since it deals with a federal question.

1 comment:

Clancy DuBos said...

Randall, great analysis as always. Thanks for the reference.