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Friday, September 13, 2013

Ind. Decisions - ACLU of Indiana Challenge to Marion County Judicial Election System Survives Motion to Dismiss

Updating this Jan. 7th ILB entry, which includes a link to the amended complaint, here is federal Judge Richard Young's 21-page Sept. 6th order, which begins:

Plaintiff, Common Cause of Indiana, is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest group that advocates for a number of causes, including the elimination of barriers to voting. Common Cause, whose membership in Marion County is approximately 250, raises a First Amendment challenge under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to the constitutionality of the unique process by which judges are elected to the Marion Superior Court, as provided in Indiana Code Section 33-33-49-13. Defendants, the Indiana Secretary of State, in her official capacity; the individual members of the Indiana Election Commission, in their official capacities; and the Governor of the State of Indiana, in his official capacity, move to dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) for lack of standing and Eleventh Amendment immunity, and under 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. For the reasons explained below, the court DENIES Defendants’ motion. * * *

Lastly, in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez-Torres, Defendants argue Common Cause’s Amended Complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 552 U.S. 196 (2008). Common Cause disagrees. * * *

Thus, the potential for independent and third-party candidates to appear on the ballot does not alleviate the burden imposed by Indiana’s electoral scheme: when a person proceeds to the ballot box on Election Day, he or she must be afforded an opportunity to vote for the judge who will fill Marion Superior Court # 1, the judge who will fill Marion Superior Court # 2, and so forth. Indiana law does not permit this. The New York law at issue in Lopez-Torres did. Accordingly, the Defendants reliance on Lopez-Torres decision does not persuade the court to rule in their favor. * * *

Common Cause alleges that the challenged election statute severely burdens the rights of its own members and those eligible to vote in Marion County. For example, if one is a registered Republican, he or she has “absolutely no opportunity to cast a meaningful vote for half the seats on the Marion Superior Court.” If one is not affiliated with the Republican or Democratic Parties, such that he or she cannot vote in the primary, he or she has “absolutely no opportunity to cast a meaningful vote for the Marion Superior Court.” Common Cause also alleges that “[t]here is no justification for the impingement on the right to cast a meaningful ballot that Indiana Code § 33-33-49-13 creates.” Common Cause’s allegations are sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Defendants’ 12(b)(6) challenge is therefore DENIED.

For the reasons set forth above, the court finds Common Cause has Article III and prudential standing to bring its claim; the Defendants are not immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment; and Common Cause states a plausible claim for relief. Accordingly, Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12 (b)(6) is DENIED.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 13, 2013 07:16 PM
Posted to Ind Fed D.Ct. Decisions