Justia Texas Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief and directed the Austin City Council to revise the ballot language for a proposed ordinance that would establish minimum standards for the Austin Police Department "to enhance public safety and police oversight, transparency, and accountability," holding that Relator was entitled to relief, in part.The City Council chose to place the proposed ordinance before the voters for approval at the next general election. Rather than use the caption set for in the petition as the ballot language, the City Council approved its own description of the ordinance to be used and the ballot using language that differed materially from the caption in the petition. Relator brought this proceeding challenging the chosen ballot language. The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief, holding (1) the City correctly determined that the caption's omission of the ordinance's financial impact violated state law, requiring modification; but (2) the Austin City Charter forbade the remainder of the City's revisions to the petitioned caption. View "In re Petricek" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court conditionally granted a petition for writ of mandamus and directed the Austin City Council to delete the word "anyone" from a proposed ordinance before placing it on the ballot, holding that Relators clearly established their entitlement to mandamus relief in one respect.The council's ballot language said the proposed ordinance created a criminal offense and penalty for anyone sitting or lying down on a public sidewalk or sleeping outdoors in or near downtown and for anyone camping in a public area not designated by the Parks and Recreation Department. The ordinance, however, did not apply "to anyone" who engaged in the enumerated activities but, rather, only a subset of those who engaged in the covered behavior could be penalized under the ordinance. The Supreme Court conditionally granted in part the petition for writ of mandamus, holding that the word "anyone" in the ballot language threatened to mislead the voters. View "In re Durnin" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court temporarily enjoining the Governor and Secretary of State from implementing or enforcing the Governor's October Proclamation affecting the conduct of the 2020 election and dissolved the temporary injunction issued by the trial court, holding that Plaintiffs failed to establish a probable right to an injunction blocking the October Proclamation.On October 1, 2020, the Governor issued a proclamation restricting delivery of mail-in ballots prior to Election Day to a single early voting clerk's office location. The October Proclamation prohibited county officials from designating multiple mail-in ballot delivery sites prior to election day but left in place the county officials' ability to offer multiple drop-ff sites on election day. Plaintiffs challenged the October Proclamation as impermissibly burdening the right to vote. The trial court temporarily enjoined the Governor and Secretary of State from implementing or enforcing the proclamation, reasoning that the limitation contained within unreasonably substantially burdened voters' constitutionally protected right to vote. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that Plaintiffs did not establish a probable right to relief on their claim that the October Proclamation impermissibly burdened the constitutional right to vote. View "Abbott v. Anti-Defamation League" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court denied Relators' petition for writ of mandamus directing the Texas Secretary of State to conduct the November 3, 2020 general election according to the statutory provisions suspended by the Texas Governor's July 27, 2020 proclamation suspending two provisions of the Texas Election Code as they relate to the general election, holding that Relators did not act diligently to protect their rights, and therefore, mandamus relief was not available.Under the July 27 proclamation, early voting by personal appearance begins six days earlier, and early voting ballots may be delivered to the clerk's officer prior to and including on Election Day. Relators, including the Republican Party of Texas and current and former state officials, initiated this original proceeding, arguing that the proclamation was not authorized by the Texas Disaster Act of 1975, and if it was, that the Act violates Tex. Const. art. I, 19 and 28. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding that Relators' delay in challenging the proclamation for more than ten weeks after it was issued precluded the consideration that their claims required. View "In re Steven Hotze" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court held that the Election Code did not authorize the Harris County Clerk to mail unsolicited ballot applications to all registered voters under sixty-five years of age, only some of whom were eligible to vote by mail, and remanded this case to the trial court to issue a temporary injunction prohibiting the clerk from mass-mailing unsolicited ballot applications to voters.Chris Hollins, the Harris County Clerk, announced on August 25, 2020 that he would send an application to vote to every registered voter in the county under age sixty-five, only a fraction of whom were eligible to vote by mail. The State sued Hollins, alleging that mass mailing applications would be an ultra virus action. The trial court denied the State's request for a temporary injunction. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the State had not demonstrated that it would be irreparably injured by Collins mass mailing applications. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Election Code does not authorize an early-voting clerk to send an application to vote by mail to a voter who has not requested one; and (2) the State satisfied the requirements for a temporary injunction in this case. View "State v. Hollins" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court held that three candidates for the Green Party of Texas were improperly denied access to the ballot for failure to pay a filing fee and that the court of appeals erred in declaring the candidates ineligible.Democratic candidates for office sought mandamus relief to remove three Green Party candidates from the November general election ballot, asserting that the candidates were ineligible because they failed to pay the filing fee required by Tex. Elec. Code 141.041. The court of appeals agreed and granted mandamus relief. The Supreme Court directed the court of appeals to vacate its conditional grant of mandamus relief, holding that because the deadline to remove a candidate from the ballot due to ineligibility has passed, removal from the ballot was no longer an available remedy. View "In re Green Party of Texas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court dismissed for want of jurisdiction the petition for writ of mandamus brought by Republican Party of Texas (Party) directing the City of Houston and Houston First Corporation "to perform their obligations" in connection with the 2020 State Convention after Houston First terminated the parties' agreement to license the George R. Brown Convention Center to the Republican Party for the convention, holding that the petition did not properly invoke the Supreme Court's mandamus authority.Houston First's termination letter invoked a force majeure clause in the parties' agreement and cited the COVID-19 epidemic in Houston. The Party sought to compel the City and Houston First to perform their "duty imposed by law" in connection with he holding of a political party convention under Tex. Elec. Code 273.061. The Supreme Court denied relief, holding (1) the "duty imposed by law" in section 273.061 is limited to a duty imposed by a constitution, statute, city charter, or city ordinance; and (2) because Houston First's only duty to allow the Party use of the Center for its Convention is under the terms of the parties' agreement, the Party's petition did not properly invoke the Supreme Court's mandamus authority. View "In re Republican Party of Texas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Court held that a lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a "disability" that renders a voter eligible to vote by mail within the meaning of Tex. Elec. Code Ann. 82.002(a) and declined to issue a writ of mandamus sought by the State prohibiting Respondents, election officials, from improperly approving applications for mail-in ballots for the July and November 2020 elections, stating that the Court was confident that Respondents will comply.Under the Texas Election Code, qualified voters are eligible to vote by mail in only five specific circumstances, including if the voter has a "disability." At issue in this case was whether a voter's lack of immunity from COVID-19 and concern about contracting it at a polling place is a "disability" within the meaning of section 82.002. The Supreme Court held that a voter's lack of immunity to COVID-19 is not a "disability" as defined by the Election Code. Because Respondents assured the Court that they will fully discharge their duty to follow the law the Supreme Court concluded that issuing the writ of mandamus to compel them to do so was unwarranted. View "In re State of Texas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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In this election contest for a city council seat the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming a sanctions award, vacated that award, and then dismissed the appeal of the election contest as moot, holding that the appeal was moot to the extent it challenged the election results but that the award of sanctions was an abuse of discretion.The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the contestee, the candidate who received the most votes, and declared the contest the winner of the election. The court then awarded sanctions against the contester, the losing candidate, and her attorney for bringing frivolous claims. The court of appeals affirmed. The contester and her attorney appealed again, challenging the election and sanctions. Meanwhile, the contestee was reelected and began his second term in office. The Supreme Court held (1) the election contest is now moot, and no exception to the mootness doctrine applies; and (2) the trial court abused its discretion in sanctioning Appellants for making non-frivolous arguments, and the court of appeals erred in affirming the sanctions. View "Pressley v. Casar" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Texas Democratic Party sued King Street Patriots (Defendant) alleging noncompliance with Election Code provisions imposing restraints and obligations on “political committees” and corporations. Defendant, in turn, argued that certain statutory provision impermissibly burdened its constitutional rights. The parties agreed to sever Defendant’s facial challenges from its as-applied challenges. Following severance, the trial court found the challenged Election Code provisions facially valid. The Court of Appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) legislatively enacted bans on corporate political contributions are constitutional under the First Amendment; (2) the Legislature’s public policy choice to authorize a private right of action passes constitutional muster; (3) the Election Code’s campaign contribution and political contribution definitions are not unconstitutionally vague; and (4) as to Plaintiff’s challenge to the Code’s political committee definitions, that issue is premature and prudentially unripe. Specifically, adjudication of Plaintiff’s facial challenge to the political committee definitions is premature because Plaintiff is not a political committee, and therefore, Plaintiff’s as-applied challenges should be adjudicated before facial constitutionality of the political committee definitions is determined. View "King Street Patriots v. Texas Democratic Party" on Justia Law