By Richard Winger | Ballot Access News
On July 8, the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C. issued this
opinion in LaRoque v Holder, 10-5433. The decision says that independent candidate John Nix, who wants to run for city council of Kinston, North Carolina, in the November 2011 election, has standing to challenge the chain of developments that causes Kinston to still have partisan city elections.
In November 2008, the voters of Kinston voted to start using non-partisan elections instead of partisan city elections. But the U.S. Justice Department refused to pre-clear that change, arguing that partisan elections are more beneficial to black voters in the south. Therefore, Nix and some other plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General, arguing that partisan elections are harmful to independent candidates, not only because North Carolina has such severe ballot access hurdles for independent candidates, but because North Carolina uses a straight-ticket device that injures independent candidates. Nix argued that the city council refuses to file a lawsuit to get permission for the city to use non-partisan elections, and therefore his only remedy is to sue to get Section Five of the Voting Rights Act overturned. The U.S. District Court said Nix lacks standing, but now the U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled Nix does have standing.
Because the constitutionality of Section Five of the Voting Rights Act (the part requiring certain parts of the nation to get permission from the Justice Department before changing any election laws) is already shaky, this case may become very important. Of course, the Justice Department is free to change its mind about Kinston, and let the city have non-partisan elections. The U.S. Court of Appeals decision deals only with standing, and sends the case back to the U.S. District Court to adjudicate the merits of the case. Thanks to Rick Hasen for the link.