American Civil Liberties Union v. Santillanes

Decision Date12 February 2007
Docket NumberNo. Civ. 05-1136 MCA/WDS.,Civ. 05-1136 MCA/WDS.
Citation506 F.Supp.2d 598
PartiesThe AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION OF NEW MEXICO; The League of Women Voters of Albuquerque/Bernalillo County, Inc.; Sage Council; New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness; Anne Kass; Alexandra Kazaras, and. Barbara Grothus, Plaintiffs, v. Millie U. SANTILLANES, Albuquerque City Clerk, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of New Mexico

Mark G. Shoesmith, Paula I. Forney, Albuquerque City Attorney's Office, Albuquerque, NM, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ARMIJO, District Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 63] filed on September 13, 2006, and the Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 65] filed on September 14, 2006. Both motions address the constitutionality of an amendment to the Election Code of the Albuquerque City Charter that a majority of voters approved in a municipal election held on October 4, 2005.1 [Doc. 1.] The October 2005 amendment to the City Charter generally requires Albuquerque voters to display a current and valid photographic identification card ("photo ID") in order to be able to vote at all future municipal elections, unless they choose to vote by means of an absentee ballot. The City contends that the new law helps to advance its interest in preventing voter fraud.

Defendant Millie Santillanes is the City Clerk for the City of Albuquerque and is charged with administering City elections. She is sued in her official capacity only.

The Plaintiffs in this case consist of three organizations and three individuals. Plaintiff League of Women Voters of Albuquerque/Bernalillo County, Inc. (the League) is a non-partisan, non-profit membership organization with members who are registered to vote and who customarily vote on election day in the City of Albuquerque's municipal elections. The League engages in a number of voter-education efforts in proximity to each election date. Plaintiff SAGE Council (the Council) is a New Mexico non-profit corporation engaged in efforts to protect the voting rights of Native Americans and educate them about voting procedures in order to increase their participation in elections in which they are eligible to vote. Plaintiff Coalition to End Homelessness (the Coalition) is a New Mexico non-profit corporation engaged in efforts to end homelessness. Some of the Coalition's organizational members are involved in registering their homeless clients to vote in Albuquerque. Plaintiffs Anne Kass, Alexandra Kazaras, and Barbara Grothus are all individuals voters who reside in Albuquerque and have expressed an intention to vote in person at their respective precinct polling places on the next municipal election day, and to make use of all the information that becomes available before election day in choosing who and what to vote for.

All of the Plaintiffs contend that the October 2005 City Charter amendment imposes an unconstitutional burden on their right to vote in Albuquerque's municipal elections. They object to being subjected to more stringent identification requirements because they (or their members or constituents) choose to vote in person at their precinct polling place on municipal election day instead of applying for and casting an absentee ballot. Plaintiffs also object to being subjected to different identification requirements based on how the October 2005 amendment is interpreted by different election officials within city government or at the polling places.

Striking an appropriate balance between the Plaintiffs' right to vote and the City's interest in regulating its elections is a task that requires careful consideration by this Court. There is no question that the City of Albuquerque has a compelling interest in preventing voter fraud and protecting the integrity of its municipal election procedures. It is also beyond dispute that home-rule municipalities such as the City of Albuquerque have the authority to regulate the manner in which their municipal elections are conducted.

Such authority is limited, however, by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Our Supreme Court has long recognized that voting is a "fundamental political right, because preservative of all rights." Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 370, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220 (1886). The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise. Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise. For this reason, the Equal Protection Clause requires, and I apply here heightened judicial scrutiny of an election law which substantially burdens the fundamental right to vote and provides election officials with such unbridled discretion that arbitrary or disparate treatment of similarly situated voters is almost certain to result. See Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 105, 121 S.Ct. 525, 148 L.Ed.2d 388 (2000) (per curiam).

After careful consideration of the evidence of record in this case, and for the reasons articulated below, I conclude that the October 2005 City Charter amendment, as written, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The proper remedy for this violation is to declare the October 2005 City Charter amendment unconstitutional and enjoin City officials from enforcing it in future municipal elections. In order to ensure that the parties are clear on what election procedures apply in the absence of the October 2005 City Charter amendment, the Court will allow further briefing on this issue before entering a final judgment in this matter.

I reach a different conclusion with respect to Plaintiffs' alternative theory that the City's photo ID requirement implicates their right to free expression under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This alternative theory has no application to the facts of this case. Therefore, my decision to enjoin the City from enforcing the October 2005 City Charter amendment rests solely on the conclusion that the specific photo ID requirement at issue here violates the Equal Protection Clause. My decision is limited to the evidence of record in this case and does not imply that all photo ID legislation relating to elections is unconstitutional per se.

Having considered the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and otherwise being fully advised in the premises, the Court grants the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment in part and denies those motions in part for the reasons set forth below.

I. BACKGROUND
A. Procedural History

On October 27, 2005, Plaintiffs filed this civil action against Defendant Millie Santillanes in her official capacity as the City Clerk charged with administering the City of Albuquerque's municipal elections. With the consent of the Defendant, Plaintiffs amended their Complaint on January 3, 2006, and again on April 24, 2006. [Doc. 5, 20.] Plaintiff American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico (ACLU) was dismissed by stipulation of the parties on August 29, 2006, in conjunction with the withdrawal of a motion for a protective order concerning Defendant's deposition questions that sought disclosure of the sources of the ACLU's funding. [Doc. 49, 50, 52, 53.] On September 13, 2006, the Court granted Plaintiffs' motion to voluntarily dismiss Counts II, III, IV, and V of their Second Amended Complaint.2 [Doc. 20, 69.] As a result, Counts I and VI of the Second Amended Complaint are the only claims which remain pending in this action. Thee two remaining counts assert violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

After completing discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' remaining claims. [Doc. 63, 65.] The American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund (ACVR) and the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law (Brennan Center) each were granted leave to file amicus briefs in conjunction with the briefing on the parties' summary-judgment motions.3 [Doc. 42, 57.] The parties and amici also were granted an extended briefing schedule on those motions [Doc. 67, 72, 73], with briefing completed on October 25, 2006. [Doc. 79, 81.] The parties requested and received an extension of time to complete a proposed pretrial order until they receive a ruling on their cross-motions for summary judgment. [Doc. 83, 84, 85.]

B. The Existing Framework of Federal and State Election Laws

The amendment to the City Charter that a majority of Albuquerque voters approved in the October 2005 municipal election takes its place against a backdrop of other federal, state, and local laws which regulate the conduct of elections and the powers of home-rule municipalities. It is important to first review the history of these pre-existing laws and explain how they relate to one another in order to understand the significance of Albuquerque's recent City Charter amendment. Because several of these pre-existing laws would apply in the absence of the October 2005 amendment, they establish a baseline of voting procedures to which the new law can be compared.

The source of the elective franchise in the State of New Mexico is found in Article VII, Section 1 of the New Mexico Constitution, which provides that:

Every citizen of the United States, who is over the age of twenty-one years, and has resided in New Mexico twelve months, in the county ninety days, and in the precinct in which he offers to vote thirty days, next preceding the election, except idiots, insane persons and persons convicted of a felonious or infamous crime unless restored to political rights, shall be qualified to vote at all elections for public officers. The legislature may enact laws providing for absentee voting by qualified electors. All school elections shall be held...

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3 cases
  • Request for Advisory Opinion, Docket No. 130589. Calendar No. 1.
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • 18 Julio 2007
    ...requirement. See California Democratic Party, supra at 584, 120 S.Ct. 2402; see also American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico v. Santillanes, 506 F.Supp.2d 598, 636-637 (D.N.M., Feb. 12, 2007). a broad interest such as preventing voter fraud would allow almost any restriction to be deem......
  • Lvcva v. Secretary of State
    • United States
    • Nevada Supreme Court
    • 4 Septiembre 2008
    ...sufficiently publicize the 2007 legislative amendments because they were not included in the Initiative Guide, and like the city clerk in Santillanes, the Secretary of State's enforcement of NRS 295.0575 was arbitrary and capricious because of the asserted inconsistency between the Initiati......
  • American Civil Liberties Union, Nm v. Santillanes
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • 17 Noviembre 2008
    ...amendment unconstitutional and enjoining the City and its agents from enforcing the amendment in future elections. ACLU v. Santillanes, 506 F.Supp.2d 598, 645-46 (D.N.M.2007); Aplt.App. 711. After the district court entered its final order, the Supreme Court decided Crawford v. Marion Count......

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