Tag Archives: Eighth Circuit

Campaigners Can’t Lie in MN

Minnesota can prohibit political campaign workers from swaying an election by intentionally lying about a candidate or ballot question, a federal judge ruled.

The Minnesota Fair Campaign Act makes it a gross misdemeanor for anyone “who intentionally participates in the preparation, dissemination, or broadcast of paid political advertising or campaign material with respect to the personal or political character or acts of a candidate, or with respect to the effect of a ballot question, that is designed or tends to elect, injure, promote, or defeat a candidate for nomination or election to a public office or to promote or defeat a ballot question, that is false, and that the person knows is false or communicates to others with reckless disregard of whether it is false.”

It drew a challenge in 2008 from the 281 CARE Committee and the Citizens for Quality Education, which campaign against ballot initiatives that seek increased funding for school districts through bond increases and tax levies.  The groups claimed that the law violated their right to free speech and chills their ability to participate in rigorous political debate.  A federal judge in Minneapolis dismissed the complaint for lack of standing, but the 8th Circuit reversed in May 2011.

On remand, U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery granted summary judgment to the defendants, who consisted of two county attorneys and the state attorney general.

“Plaintiffs correctly note that our countrys forefathers used rancourous[sic], sometimes false statements to influence voters or even gain material benefits for themselves,” Montgomery wrote.

“But whats past is not always prologue. Over a century ago, the Minnesota legislature implemented minimal, narrow restrictions against knowingly false speech about political candidates in an effort to protect the debates between honestly held beliefs that are at the core of the First Amendment. For nearly a quarter of a century, these restrictions have also applied to statements regarding ballot initiatives. The ballot provisions in Minn. Stat. § 211B.06 reflect a legislative judgment on behalf of Minnesotan citizens to guard against the malicious manipulation of the political process. The court finds that the provisions at issue are narrowly tailored to serve this compelling interest.”

Though Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson had sought dismissal on the basis of qualified immunity, Montgomery deemed this question moot.

via Courthouse News Service.

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Filed under District Court, Judges, Minnesota

8th Circuit Tosses 19 Contempt Citations for Defendant Who Refused to Stand for Judge

A federal appeals court has ordered a judge to consider the religious rights of a defendant who claimed her Muslim religion prevented her from standing at the opening and close of court sessions.

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis of Minneapolis to reconsider 19 out of 20 contempt sanctions against Amina Farah Ali, report the Associated Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The court said Ali’s religion claim should be evaluated under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Davis had sentenced Amina Farah Ali to 100 days in jail for the 20 times she refused to rise over a two-day period in October 2011. Ali, who was accused of providing money to a terrorist group, is a Muslim who cited religious reasons for her refusal. Her lawyer had explained to the judge that Ali believes “she should not rise for persons when she does not rise for the prophet.”

The court said one contempt charge may stand because Ali remained seated one time without challenging a written order to follow court decorum. The other 19 contempt citations were based on conduct after Ali’s lawyer objected to the order.

Ali spent two days in jail. She relented and was released after three clerics who visited her advised she could stand for the court if she was “in a difficult situation, if [she was] fearful of [her] own life,” the 8th Circuit opinion (PDF) says.

The judge had evaluated Ali’s claim under the First Amendment without considering RFRA, the 8th Circuit said. The law requires the judge to consider whether his order directing Ali to stand was the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest, according to the opinion.

The fact that Ali’s beliefs weren’t uniformly held by Muslims isn’t relevant, the appeals court said. “The [trial] court noted that Ali’s interpretation of Islamic doctrine was inconsistent with the interpretations of her co-defendant, the Muslim spectators in the courtroom, and the Muslim clerics who came to speak with her,” the appeals court said. “While these may be appropriate considerations in a First Amendment analysis of whether a practice is fundamental to a particular religion, … such considerations are irrelevant in the RFRA context so long as Ali’s objection to the pretrial order was rooted in her own sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Ali was convicted of providing material support to a known terrorist group. She had contended she didn’t know she was raising money for a terrorist group and intended only to benefit needy people in her native Somalia.

via 8th Circuit Tosses 19 Contempt Citations for Defendant Who Refused to Stand for Judge – News – ABA Journal.

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Filed under Appellate, courts, legal decision, Minnesota

8th Circuit upholds judicial campaign restrictions

The Eighth Circuit in Wetsal v. Sexton, No. 09-1578, ruled en banc that the Minnesota Code of Judicial Conduct clauses for endorsement, personal solicitation, and solicitation for a political organization or candidate do not violate the First Amendment.

Under strict scrutiny, the State bore the burden of proof that the endorsement and solicitation clauses advance a compelling state interest and that it is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.

Minnesota argued that it had a compelling interest in maintaining judicial impartiality and in maintaining the appearance of judicial impartiality.  The Eighth Circuit agreed.  “[W]e easily conclude Minnesota’s interest in preserving the appearance of impartiality is compelling, particularly when cast against other interests courts have recognized as compelling.”

The Eighth Circuit also held that the judicial campaign restrictions were narrowly tailored.  The Court explained that the endorsement clause is narrowly tailored since it restricts speech for or against particular parties, rather than for or against particular issues.  The court explains its concern as follows,

Under either framework, a judge “who tips the outcome of a close election in a politician’s favor would necessarily be a powerful political actor, and thus call into question the impartiality of the court.”

The Court held the solicitation clause is also narrowly tailored.  The Court first distinguished itself from Republican Party of Minn. v. White, 416 F.3d 738 (8th Cir. 2005) (en banc), which dealt with large group solicitation and signature bans; as opposed to Wersal, which dealt with personal solicitation.  With a personal solicitation, “[a] contribution given directly to a judge, in response to a judge’s personal solicitation of that contribution, carries with it both a greater potential for a quid pro quo and a greater appearance of a quid pro than a contribution given to the judge’s campaign committee at the request of someone other than the judge, or in response to a mass mailing sent above the judge’s signature.”  Quoting Siefert v. Alexander, 608 F.3d 974, 989 (7th Cir. 2010).  The Court also concluded that because recusal would not be a workable remedy to prevent bias or the appearance of bias from personal solicitations, the solicitation clause is narrowly tailored.

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Filed under Appellate, courts, Judges, legal decision, Minnesota