Green Party of Tennessee v. Tre Hargett, CASE NO. 3:11-0692

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Tennessee
PartiesGREEN PARTY OF TENNESSEE CONSTITUTION PARTY OF TENNESSEE, Plaintiffs, v. TRE HARGETT in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, and MARK GOINS in his official capacity as Coordinator of Elections for the State of Tennessee, Defendants.
Docket NumberCASE NO. 3:11-0692
Decision Date03 February 2012

GREEN PARTY OF TENNESSEE CONSTITUTION PARTY OF TENNESSEE, Plaintiffs,
v.
TRE HARGETT in his official capacity as Tennessee Secretary of State, and MARK GOINS
in his official capacity as Coordinator of Elections for the State of Tennessee, Defendants.

CASE NO. 3:11-0692

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE NASHVILLE DIVISION

Date: February 3, 2012


JUDGE HAYNES

MEMORANDUM

Page 2

TABLE OF CONTENTS

A. Findings of Fact 7

1. Plaintiffs 8
2. History of Minor Political Parties in Tennessee Elections 9
3. Tennessee's Current Ballot Access Process 11
4. Parties' Expert Proof 20
a. Plaintiffs' Expert 20
b. Defendants' Experts 23

B. Conclusions of Law 34

1. Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel 40
2. Standing 44
3. First Amendment Claims 46
a. Tennessee's Party membership Requirement 56
b. The Primary Requirement 60
c. The 2.5% Signature Requirement 64
d. The 119 Day Deadline 72
e. The Majority Party's Ballot Preference 79
f. The Bar of "Nonpartisan or Independent" 83 in Political Parties' Names
g. Plaintiffs' Nondelegation Claim 84
h. Vagueness Claim 87

C. Conclusion 88

Page 3

Plaintiffs, Green Party of Tennessee ("GPT"), and Constitution Party of Tennessee ("CPT"), filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Defendants: Tre Hargett, Tennessee Secretary of State, and Mark Goins, Tennessee's Coordinator of Elections. Plaintiffs are political parties seeking recognition and ballot access for their candidates in federal and state elections. The gravamen of Plaintiffs' complaint is that certain provisions of Tennessee's recently enacted ballot access statutes effectively exclude minor political parties from achieving recognition as a political party and ballot access for their candidates in violation of their First Amendment rights to vote, to express their political speech and to associate as a political party. Plaintiffs also assert a claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment for the State's preferential placement of certain party's candidates on the ballot.

Plaintiffs' specific claims are: (1) that Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 2-5-101(a), 2-1-104 (a)(24) and 2-3-107(a) effectively deny Plaintiffs the ability to qualify as a "Recognized minor party" and impose impermissible burdens on Plaintiffs' First Amendment right to associate as a political party; (2) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-l-104(a)(24)'s requirements for a "Recognized minor party" are unconstitutionally vague and constitute an improper delegation of undefined legislative authority to State election officials; (3) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-5-101(a)(l) setting a 119 day deadline for minor political parties' petitions for ballot access for its candidates, approximately four months prior to the primary, is unconstitutional as a matter of law; (4) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-202, requiring minority political parties to nominate their candidates for statewide offices by primary elections, intrudes upon Plaintiffs' First Amendment right to select their nominees and to control their internal affairs; and (5) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-5-208(d)(l), awarding a preferential position on the ballot to the current majority party, discriminates against Plaintiffs in

Page 4

violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This action is a sequel to an earlier action, Libertarian Party of Tennessee v. Goins, 793 F. Supp. 2d 1064 (M.D. Tenn. 2010), holding that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-l-104(a)(30) violates Plaintiffs' First Amendment right to vote, Tennessee voters' First Amendment right to privacy of their political affiliation, and Plaintiffs' First Amendment right to associate as a political party. The Court concluded that Plaintiffs demonstrated that Tennessee's 2.5% requirement in Section 2-l-104(a)(29), coupled with the party membership requirement in Section 2-l-104(a)(30) and the State's election officials' 1201 day deadline prior to the August primaries for petitions of new political parties, effectively precluded minor political party participation in state and national elections in Tennessee.2 The Defendants did not appeal that decision, but the Tennessee General Assembly enacted changes to the State's ballot access laws that are at issue in this action.

Before the Court are the Plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment supported by their expert's report contending, in sum:

(1) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-1-104(a)(24) defining a "Recognized minor party" as a party supported by 2.5% of the voters in the last gubernatorial election, imposes impermissible burdens on Plaintiffs' First Amendment right to associate as a political party;
(2) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-l-104(a)(24), is unconstitutionally vague and constitutes an

Page 5

improper delegation of undefined authority to State election officials;
(3) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-5-101(a)(l) setting a 119 day deadline prior to the August primaries for minor political parties' petitions for recognition and ballot access for its candidates effectively excludes Plaintiffs and is unconstitutional as a matter of law;
(4) that Term. Code Ann. § 2-13-107(d) barring minor political parties from using the terms "Nonpartisan or Independent" in their party's names violates Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights of free speech;
(5) that State election forms for candidates requiring signatories to a party nominee's petition to declare that the signatories are members of that party violates Plaintiffs' and voters' First Amendment rights to privacy of political beliefs; and
(6) that Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-5-208(d)(10), awarding preferential position on the ballot to the State's majority political party, discriminates against Plaintiffs in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

(Docket Entry Nos. 19 and 20).

In response, Defendants submit affidavits of experts, as well as state and local election officials, contending that these state laws serve the following state interests:

"(1) requiring potential candidates to show some minimum level of support of their candidacy by the electorate; (2) halting the waste and confusion that might otherwise result from a lack of that showing; (3) avoiding disruption of the ballot and election preparation process; (4) assuring honest elections; and (5) avoiding disruption of ongoing voter education, poll worker training, and impending responsibilities to assure ballot accuracy and timely distribution of absentee ballots."

(Docket Entry No. 36, Defendants' Memorandum at 15). Defendants also contend with the prior ruling in Goins that the res judicata doctrine precludes Plaintiffs' challenge to the state law requiring political parties to select candidates for all statewide offices by primaries. Defendants' experts opine, in essence, that Tennessee's ballot access laws do not burden minor political parties' ballot access and that the minor political parties' poor political outcomes in Tennessee are the cause of their lack of ballot access. According to defense experts, those outcomes show

Page 6

that ballot access for minor political parties' efforts at party recognition are acts of political futility, not state laws. Defendants' experts assert that America's "winner takes all" election rules cause voters to engage in strategic voting and thereby elect candidates of either the Democratic or Republican party that eventually absorb minor political parties. Finally, Defendants submit affidavits of state and local election officials on the practical needs and legal requirements to justify the time deadlines for petitions from minor political parties seeking recognition for its candidates.

In reply, Plaintiffs assert, in essence: (1) that Defendants' experts' opinions and conclusions conflict with applicable court decisions; (2) that under the res judicata doctrine, Goins' holding on the 120 day deadline for a minor political party's petition for recognition as a statewide political party, precludes the defense of the 119 day deadline; (3) that Defendants' experts fail to distinguish between candidate access and minor political party access; and (4) that the state and local officials' affidavits are insufficient to justify the intrusions upon Plaintiffs' rights under First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Plaintiffs filed motions for oral argument and an expedited ruling that the Court granted and set oral argument for January 9, 2012. (Docket Entry Nos. 32 and 33). Given the Defendants' proof disputing that the state laws posed any burden for Plaintiffs, the Court ordered the Defendants to identify specific facts in their generic references to lengthy affidavits upon which they rely, given the requirements of Local Rule 56.01(c).3 On January 24, 2012, Defendants filed

Page 7

their response. (Docket Entry No. 44).

Based upon the facts and controlling legal authorities set forth below, the Court concludes that the provisions of the Tennessee ballot access statutes imposing the 2.5% signature requirement and the 119 day deadline prior to the August primary, alone and in combination, violate Plaintiffs' and their members' First Amendment rights to associate as a political party and Tennessee voters' rights to the opportunity to vote for such parties. The Court concludes that the State's "Nomination Form" for minor political parties' petitions requiring the signatory's affirmation that he or she is a member of the party, violates Plaintiffs' and the signatory's First Amendment right of association and privacy of the signatory's political beliefs. Further, the Court concludes that the State's requirement that minor political parties select their nominees by primary elections is an impermissible intrusion of the Plaintiffs' First Amendment right of association that includes the right to select their nominees. In addition, Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-13-107(d), barring the words "Independent" and "Nonpartisan" in the name(s) of political parties, violates new political parties' and their members' First Amendment rights of free speech. Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-l-104(a)(24) granting the State...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT