Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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Former Massachusetts state senator Wilkerson, pleaded guilty to attempted extortion (18 U.S.C. 1951) based on her acceptance of money in exchange for favorable influence in her official capacity on issuance of a liquor license and sale and development of publicly-owned land. The district court received a lengthy presentence report, conducted a thorough hearing, and stated reasons for imposing a sentence of 42 months, near the middle of the guidelines. The First Circuit affirmed. The court’s statement that "tax violation by a public official is not a personal matter" is most plausibly interpreted as a segue to make a "larger point" about the public implications of an over-engaged official's failure to attend to her own legal responsibilities. Its statement that Wilkerson "was simply inattentive and inattentive in a way that permitted her to have access to money that she should not have had" was fair comment on the implications of non-compliance with campaign-finance requirements. Its statement that Wilkerson's engagement as a college "consultant" was one of "a series of very embarrassing things" she did in response to her financial troubles was specific to the circumstances of the arrangement. The district court's skeptical appraisal of the arrangement was reasonable. View "United States v. Wilkerson" on Justia Law

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Having lost his bid for a Maine Senate seat, plaintiff sued Republican party leadership for defamation libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and publicly placing him in a false light. The complaint referred to flyers, brochures, and radio and TV ads days before the election that conjured up imaginary wrongs that he had supposedly done as a selectman for the town of Blue Hill, primarily concerning discontinuance of fireworks on the Fourth of July. The complaint referred to "actual malice." The district court dismissed. The First Circuit affirmed, finding that false statements were made negligently, not with actual malice. Defamation law "does not require that combatants for public office act like war-time neutrals, treating everyone evenhandedly and always taking the high road. Quite the contrary. Provided that they do not act with actual malice, they can badmouth their opponents, hammering them with unfair and one-sided attacks"

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The First Circuit previously rejected claims that Maine's laws regulating political action committees were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Plaintiffs then challenged the law applicable to ballot question committees (BQCs), Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 21-A, 1056-B, imposing registration and disclosure requirements on entities that finance election-related advocacy. The district court upheld the law on summary judgment. The First Circuit affirmed, upholding the law's definition of "contribution." Plaintiffs demonstrated no circumstances in which the statute fails to provide them fair warning of its reach. The $100 reporting threshold is narrowly tailored to meet Maine's compelling interest in an informed electorate.

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National Organization for Marriage challenged the constitutionality of Maine election laws (Me.Rev.Stat. title 21A sec. 1052) as overbroad under the First Amendment and so vague in its terms, particularly with respect to the phrase "for the purpose of influencing," as to violate due process. The laws govern registration of political action committees and reporting of independent expenditures. The district court upheld the law. The First Circuit affirmed, first holding that the organization had standing. The record showed that its fears were objectively reasonable and led to self-censorship. With respect to the overbreadth claim, the court rejected an argument based on the distinction between issue discussion and express advocacy, characterizing the distinction as irrelevant and applying the "exacting scrutiny" standard because the law does not prohibit, limit, or impose any onerous burdens on speech, but merely requires maintenance and disclosure of certain financial information. There is a "substantial relation" between Maine's informational interest and each of the laws at issue. The terms "promoting," "support," "opposition," "influencing," "expressly advocate" and "initiation" are sufficiently clear.

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National Organization for Marriage challenged the constitutionality of Rhode Island election laws as overbroad under the First Amendment and so vague in its terms as to violate due process. The laws govern registration of political action committees, contributions to and expenditures on behalf of candidates, and reporting of independent expenditures. The organization claimed that it would refrain from certain political activities if required to register as a PAC, but would comply with independent expenditures under protest. After receiving assurances that the organization could engage in its planned speech without registering as a PAC, the district court denied a preliminary injunction, noting the minimal burden imposed by the law and the valuable governmental interest underlying it. The First Circuit affirmed, finding that the organization had not demonstrated likelihood of success on the merits.