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Marcellus v. Virginia State Board of Elections

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

March 4, 2016

ROBERT G. MARCELLUS, et al., Plaintiffs,


M. Hannah Lauck, United States District Judge

This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiffs Robert G. Marcellus, David Williams, Barry Hodge, Timothy Gresham, and the Powhatan County Republican Committee ("PCRC") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") and Defendants Virginia State Board of Elections ("SBE"), James B. Alcorn (Member and Chair), Clara Belle Wheeler (Member and Vice Chair), and Singleton B. McAllister (Member and Secretary) (collectively, "Defendants").[1] (ECF Nos. 29, 31.) Both motions for summary judgment have been filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.[2]Plaintiffs and Defendants have, respectively, responded to the cross-motions, and both parties have replied. (ECF Nos. 33, 34, 35, 36.) The Court heard oral argument. Accordingly, the matter is ripe for disposition. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[3] For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and grant the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. Factual and Procedural Background[4]

A. Factual History

1. The Challenged Statute

Plaintiffs challenge Virginia Code § 24.2-613 ("Section 24.2-613"), which provides that in elections for "federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices only, " ballots must include a political party affiliation alongside a candidate's name. Plaintiffs ask this Court to declare Section 24.2-613 unconstitutional for two reasons: first, because it allegedly violates the Plaintiffs' right to the freedom of association to advance shared political beliefs under the First[5]and Fourteenth[6] Amendments to the United States Constitution; and second, because it allegedly denies Plaintiffs their equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. In order to contextualize Plaintiffs' claims challenging Section 24.2-613, while viewing the record as a whole and drawing inferences in Plaintiffs' favor, the Court first traces the history of the statute. The Court offers this background having viewed each motion on its own merits.

In 1870, the Commonwealth of Virginia (the "Commonwealth" or "Virginia") adopted the written ballot, which was to consist of "a white paper ticket" containing only "the names of the persons for whom the elector intends to vote" and "the office to which each person so named is intended by him to be chosen." 1869-70 Va. Acts ch. 76, at 85. Since the 1870 adoption of the written ballot, Virginia has never printed party affiliations for candidates for local offices. See, e.g., Va. Code, tit. 3, ch. 8, § 13 (1873); Va. Code, tit. 5, § 122 (1887); Va. Code, tit. 5, § 122 (1904); Va. Code, tit. 6, § 153 (1919); Va. Code § 24, 215 (1950); Va. Code § 24.1-111 (1973 Repl. Vol.).

In 1970, the General Assembly amended its election statutes and began printing the party affiliation for candidates for President of the United States. See 1970 Va. Acts ch. 462 at 853; Va. Code § 24.1-111 (1973 Repl. Vol.) ("No names of political parties shall appear on the ballot, except in presidential elections"). In 1993, the General Assembly enacted Title 24.2 of the Code of Virginia. 1993 Va. Acts ch. 641. The 1993 version of Section 24.2-613, like its 1970 precursor, broadly proscribed the placement of party affiliation on a ballot by allowing such identification to be listed only during presidential elections: "No names of political parties shall appear on the ballot, except as provided in § 24.2-614 for presidential elections." Va. Code § 24.2-613 (1993).

The current version of Section 24.2-613, which became effective January 1, 2001, states in relevant part:

For elections for federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices only, each candidate who has been nominated by a political party or in a primary election shall be identified by the name of his [or her] political party. Independent candidates shall be identified by the term "Independent."

Va. Code § 24.2-613 (2015). Section 24.2-613's reach encompasses federal offices such as the position of President of the United States, that of a United States Senator, and that of a member of the United States House of Representatives. "Statewide" offices cover the Governor of Virginia, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, and Attorney General of Virginia. The General Assembly offices referenced comprise seats in the Senate of Virginia and the Virginia House of Delegates.

2. Virginia's General Election Ballots

Under Section 24.2-613, with respect to federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices, Virginia identifies candidates nominated by petition as "Independent, " unless those candidates produce evidence demonstrating nomination by a "recognized political party." Va. Code § 24.2-613. The Commonwealth's ballots utilize the following letters, which correspond to the names of parties, recognized political parties, and independent candidates: Democrat (D); Republican (R); Libertarian (L); Green (G); Independent Green (IG); Constitution (C); and, Independent (I). Preceding the appropriate abbreviation from the aforementioned list, the ballot lists the candidate's name, a space, a dash, and another space.

3. Local Elections in Virginia

Virginia consists of 133 localities, which include counties and independent cities. Local elected offices in the Commonwealth include: members of the governing body of localities; members of the School Board; Clerk of Court; Commonwealth's Attorney; Commissioner of the Revenue; Treasurer; and, Soil and Water Conservation District Director. The Commonwealth requires that candidates for some local offices qualify for the ballot in a nonpartisan way, by petition. See, e.g., Va. Code § 10.1-523 (Soil and Water Conservation District Directors). Some localities, meanwhile, have charters that govern whether candidates may be nominated by parties or only by petition. Compare City of Petersburg Charter § 2-3.1 (1974 Va. Acts ch. 2) (allowing nomination by petition or general law), with City of Virginia Beach Charter § 3.02:1 (1971 Va. Acts ch. 86) (allowing nomination only by petition.)

4. The Powhatan Board of Supervisors Election

On May 21, 2015, PCRC nominated Marcellus, Williams, Hodge, and Gresham as Republican candidates for the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors. Marcellus, Williams, Hodge, and Gresham "properly qualified to be placed on the 2015 general election ballot." (Stip. Fact \ 3, ECF No. 17.) The Chair of PCRC declared Plaintiffs to be the Republican nominees for the Powhatan County Board of Supervisors and provided this information to the SBE. In accordance with Section 24.2-613, the November 3, 2015 general election ballot did not display a party identifier next to the names of the individual Plaintiffs. Each of the individual Plaintiffs intends to run for local office in the future as a nominee of a political party.[7]

B. Procedural History

On August 17, 2015, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Motion for Preliminary Injunction. (ECF Nos. 1, 3.) Defendants filed their responses to the Motion for Preliminary Injunction, and Plaintiffs replied. (ECF Nos. 12, 13.) On September 3, 2015, the Court held a hearing on the Motion for Preliminary Injunction. On September 9, 2015, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order denying Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction. The Court concluded that laches barred the requested relief.

On November 9, 2015, in accordance with the Court's Scheduling Order, both parties filed motions for summary judgment, with accompanying memoranda in support. (ECF Nos. 29, 30, 31, 32.) The parties filed their respective responses and replies. (ECF Nos. 33, 34, 35, ...

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