Purcell v. Gonzalez (06A375) and Arizona v. Gonzalez (06A379)

October 20, 2006 Supreme Court Update

Greetings, Court Fans!
The Court issued its first decision of the Term today (so much for Monday's comment that it would be a while!). In our defense, today's decision came as something of a surprise – it was a unanimous per curiam ruling undoing a temporary injunction and allowing new Arizona voter-fraud regulations to take effect for next month's election.
The cases, Purcell v. Gonzalez (06A375) and Arizona v. Gonzalez (06A379), began in Arizona district court when groups of voters challenged the state's procedures under Proposition 200, a voter-approved measure requiring voters to present proof of citizenship when registering and ID when voting. The procedures would not turn away voters without ID, but instead would allow them to cast provisional ballots that would count if they returned with ID within five days. (Those without ID but with foresight and time on their hands also could vote in an "early voting period," which would allow officials to compare signatures on ballots with those on registration rolls.) The plaintiffs claimed the rules still would deny some their right to vote, and they asked the district court to issue a temporary injunction so the rules would not apply this November. The court denied the injunction last month in an order that made no factual or legal findings. The plaintiffs appealed, and on October 5 the Ninth Circuit issued its own temporary injunction pending the result of the appeal (from the denial of the temporary injunction – don't you love our system?). To further muddy the waters, on October 12 the district court (apparently oblivious to the appeal) finally issued its findings that the plaintiffs did not have a strong likelihood of success on the merits and were not entitled to an injunction. Nevertheless, the Ninth Circuit's injunction pending the appeal was still in place.
Arizona officials then applied to the Court for relief from the Ninth Circuit's ruling. The Court treated the applications as petitions for cert, granted them, and vacated the injunction. The short, unsigned opinion starts off with nods both to integrity in the voting process and to the right to vote, but the opinion really hinges on neither of those things. The Ninth Circuit had to give deference to the district court's ruling, but there was no indication that it had done so and the Ninth Circuit made no factual or legal findings of its own. As a result, the Supreme Court was left to review the Ninth Circuit order in light of the district court's ultimate finding that the plaintiffs did not merit temporary injunctive relief. Since there was nothing in the Ninth Circuit's ruling to show that the district court was wrong, the Court vacated the Ninth Circuit's order, leaving the rules in place to govern the voting in November. The Court took no position on the underlying merits, noting that the issues were "hotly contested." Justice Stevens wrote a short concurrence to say that leaving the rules in place for now would provide evidence on two issues critical to the ultimate resolution: how big the fraud problem really is, and how much the rules actually disenfranchise legitimate voters.
The Court's still "away" until next Friday's conference, but we'll let you know if it issues any more unexpected per curiam rulings in the interim. Thanks for reading!
Ken & Kim
From the Appellate Practice Group at Wiggin and Dana. For more information, contact Kim Rinehart, Ken Heath, Aaron Bayer, or Jeff Babbin at 203-498-4400