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Libertarian Party of Virginia v. Alcorn

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 20, 2016

LIBERTARIAN PARTY OF VIRGINIA; WILLIAM HAMMER; JEFFREY CARSON; JAMES CARR; MARC HARROLD; WILLIAM REDPATH; WILLIAM CARR; BO CONRAD BROWN; PAUL F. JONES, Plaintiffs,
v.
JAMES B. ALCORN, in his individual and official capacities as member of the Virginia State Board of Elections; SINGLETON B. MCALLISTER, in her individual and official capacities as member of the Virginia State Board of Elections; CLARA BELLE WHEELER, in her individual and official capacities as member of the Virginia State Board of Elections, Defendants-Appellees. and ROBERT C. SARVIS, Plaintiff - Appellant,

          Argued: May 10, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Richmond. Robert E. Payne, Senior District Judge. (3:14-cv-00479-REP)

         ARGUED:

          David I. Schoen, DAVID I. SCHOEN, ATTORNEY AT LAW, Montgomery, Alabama, for Appellant.

          Stuart Alan Raphael, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellees.

         ON BRIEF:

          Robert C. Sarvis, Alexandria, Virginia, Appellant Pro Se.

          Mark R. Herring, Attorney General of Virginia, Rhodes B. Ritenour, Deputy Attorney General, Anna T. Birkenheier, Assistant Attorney General, Matthew R. McGuire, Assistant Attorney General, Erin R. McNeill, Assistant Attorney General, Trevor S. Cox, Deputy Solicitor General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellees.

          Before WILKINSON and AGEE, Circuit Judges, and DAVIS, Senior Circuit Judge.

          WILKINSON, Circuit Judge.

         Robert Sarvis, a political figure in the Libertarian Party of Virginia, brings a constitutional challenge to Virginia's three-tiered ballot ordering law. The district court found no merit in Sarvis's arguments and accordingly dismissed his challenge for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). We now affirm.

         I.

         Sarvis's attack focuses chiefly upon the ballot ordering law found in Virginia Code § 24.2-613. That law describes the form of ballot to be used in Virginia elections. It provides that for elections to "federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices" a candidate "shall be identified by the name of his political party" or by the term "Independent." Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-613. Of principal concern to this case, the law also orders the ballot for elections to these offices in three tiers.

         The first tier includes candidates from "parties" or "political parties, " which a related section of the Code defines as organizations of citizens that received at least 10 percent of the vote for any statewide office filled in either of the two preceding statewide general elections. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-101. In addition, the Code provides that any organization seeking "party" or "political party" status must also have had a state central committee and an elected state chairman present in Virginia for six months prior to any nominee from that organization filing for office. Id. The only organizations currently designated "parties" or "political parties" under the Code are the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.[1]

         The second tier includes candidates from "recognized political parties." For an organization of citizens to be designated a "recognized political party" under the Code, that organization must have had a state central committee present in Virginia for six months prior to any nominee from that party filing for office, and the state central committee must be comprised of voters residing in each Virginia congressional district. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-613. The organization must also have a duly elected state chairman and secretary as well as a party plan and bylaws. Id. The Libertarian Party of Virginia has been designated a "recognized political party" under the Code.

         Finally, the third tier of the ballot includes "[i]ndependent candidates" not associated with "political parties" or "recognized political parties." Id.

         In addition to delineating the election ballot's three tiers, Virginia's ballot ordering law also specifies how candidates are ordered within the three tiers. In the first two tiers, candidate order is set by lot. Importantly, this order is replicated for each office on the ballot, creating party order symmetry across the ballot as a whole. In the third tier, candidate order is alphabetical by surname. Id.[2]

         In July 2014, just a few months before the November 2014 elections, Sarvis and others members of the Libertarian Party of Virginia along with the Libertarian Party of Virginia itself and one independent candidate filed a complaint that named as defendants certain members of the Virginia State Board of Elections. The complaint alleged that the three-tiered ballot ordering law found in Virginia Code § 24.2-613 violated their constitutional rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Sarvis and his co-plaintiffs sought relief from the law prior to the November 2014 elections.[3]

         In September 2014, the plaintiffs and the Commonwealth both determined that the litigation would not be resolved prior to the November 2014 elections. But the parties and the district court agreed that, should Sarvis and his co-plaintiffs intend to seek elected office in the future, their case would remain ripe beyond the November 2014 elections under the capable of repetition yet evading review doctrine. The plaintiffs thus amended their complaint to reflect their interest in seeking relief from the ballot ordering law with regard to future elections, and the litigation continued on this basis. Sarvis in particular alleged that he would be "a candidate for national office in Virginia in the 2016 election." J.A. 32. The amended complaint asked that the district court enjoin the law during the "2015 statewide elections and the 2016 and beyond general elections" and issue "an order directing the defendants to assign ballot positions to all ballot-qualified candidates and parties on a random basis without regard to party status." J.A. 46.

         Shortly thereafter, Virginia filed a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), claiming that the amended complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The district court granted Virginia's motion to dismiss in January 2015. Sarvis v. Judd, 80 F.Supp.3d 692, 695 (E.D. Va. 2015). The district court based its decision primarily on the framework established by the Supreme Court in Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428 (1992), and Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983). In those decisions, the Supreme Court held that courts should review First and Fourteenth Amendment-based challenges to state election laws by weighing the severity of the burden the challenged ...


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