Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the existing September 1, 2020 deadline for the receipt of mail-in primary election ballots is constitutional.In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Legislature passed an emergency law to increase voting options in the September 1 primary election and the November 3 general election. The act included the additional voting option of voting by mail. For the primary election, voters may apply for a mail-in ballot, so long as their application to vote by mail is received by August 26, and the mail-in primary election ballot is completed and received by local election officials before 8 p.m. on September 1. Plaintiffs argued that the September 1 deadline significantly interferes with the constitutional right to vote. The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the September 1 deadline for the receipt of mail-in primary election ballots is not unconstitutional. View "Grossman v. Secretary of the Commonwealth" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the decision of the State Ballot Law Commission (SBLC) preventing Helen Brady from appearing on the September 1, 2020 State primary election ballot and ordered the Secretary to place Brady's name on the ballot, holding that the electronic filing process utilized by Brady complied with the substance of the material requirements of the decision in Goldstein v. Secretary of the Commonwealth, 484 Mass. 516, 531-532 (2020).The SBLC struck all of the certified signatures that Brady, who sought to appear on the ballot for the Republican nomination for the office of United States representative for the Ninth Congressional District in Massachusetts, had secured from voters. Brady had gathered all of her voter signatures electronically and collected the required minimum number of signatures. The SBLC struck all of Brady's signatures on the ground that Brady failed to comply with the Goldstein process. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the SBLC decision, holding that the electronic signature gathering process Brady utilized complied in substance with the material requirements of Goldstein. View "Brady v. State Ballot Law Commission" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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The Supreme Judicial Court remanded this matter to the county court for entry of a judgment declaring that the Attorney General's decision to certify Initiative Petition 19-14, entitled "An Initiative Petition for a Law Relative to the Sale of Beer and Wine by Food Stores," was in compliance with the requirements of art. 48, The Initiative, II, 2 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution.After the initiative petition was submitted to the Attorney General, the Attorney General certified to the Secretary of the Commonwealth that Initiative Petition 19-14 was in proper form for submission to the people. Seven registered voters of the Commonwealth subsequently commenced an action in the county court challenging the certification of the initiative petition. The Supreme Judicial Court held that Initiative Petition 19-14 complied with article 48 because it neither contained unrelated subjects nor included a specific appropriation. View "Weiner v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court granted Plaintiffs' emergency petition and allowed Plaintiff's application for declaratory relief to the extent that this Court declares, in light of emergency circumstances arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, that the minimum signature requirements in Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 53, 7 and 44 for candidates in the September 1, 2020 primary election are unconstitutional.Plaintiffs argued that, in the context of the current pandemic, the minimum signature requirements to be listed on the ballot for a party's nomination posed an unconstitutionally undue burden on Massachusetts would-be candidates' constitutional right to seek elective office. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed, holding (1) application of the signature requirements in the context of the current public health crisis imposes a severe burden a candidate's right to gain access to the September 1 primary ballot, triggering heightened scrutiny; and (2) in this time of pandemic, the justification for the current signature requirements cannot survive this scrutiny and are unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiffs. The Court fashioned equitable relief intended to substantially diminish that burden while respecting the legislative purpose for imposing minimum signature requirements. View "Goldstein v. Secretary of the Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the superior court judge’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the director of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) on Plaintiffs’ claim that Massachusetts’s ban on corporate contributions, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 55, 8, imposes an unconstitutional restraint on their rights to free speech and association and denies them their right to equal protection under the law, holding that the challenged statute is constitutional.Plaintiffs, business corporations, brought this action challenging the law limiting political spending of corporations. The superior court granted summary judgment for OCPF. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) section 8 is constitutional under the First Amendment and articles 16 and 19 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights; and (2) section 8 does not violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or Plaintiffs’ entitlement to equal protection under article 1 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. View "1A Auto, Inc. v. Director of Office of Campaign & Political Finance" on Justia Law

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The twenty-day blackout period for voter registration prior to an election does not violate the Massachusetts Constitution.The trial judge in this case declared Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 51, 1, 1F, 26 and 34 to be unconstitutional to the extent that these statutes’ twenty-day deadline operates to deny constitutionally qualified voters the right to cast a ballot. The Supreme Judicial court vacated the judgment of the superior court and remanded the case, holding that the twenty-day deadline was not unconstitutional but that the Legislature has a continuing duty to ensure that the deadline is no further from election day than what the Legislature reasonably believes is consistent with the Commonwealth’s interest in conducting a fair and orderly election. View "Chelsea Collaborative, Inc. v. Secretary of the Commonwealth" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that a recall election to remove Plaintiff, a member of the board of selectmen of the town of Townsend, from office pursuant to the town’s recall act may not proceed because the act provides for a recall vote to take place only on grounds not alleged here.In 2017, Petitioners, ten registered voters residing in the town, submitted to the town clerk a petition seeking to recall Plaintiff, citing malfeasance and neglect of duty as grounds for the recall. Plaintiff commenced an action to enjoin the recall election, contending that the allegations made against her were legally insufficient to initiate a recall under the act. The superior court denied Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, but a single justice of the Appeals Court ordered that a preliminary injunction issue. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the recall election may not proceed because the allegations in the affidavit supporting the petition for recall do not fall within the act’s enumerated grounds. View "King v. Town Clerk of Townsend" on Justia Law

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At issue in these two consolidated appeals was an initiative petition that proposed to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana and products that contain marijuana concentrate. In the first case (Hensley case) Plaintiffs claimed that the Attorney General erred in certifying the petition for inclusion on the ballot under article 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution because it contained two unrelated subjects, because the Attorney General’s summary was not fair, and because the title and one-sentence statements were misleading. In the second case (Allen case) Plaintiffs challenged the title and one-sentence statements but on different grounds from those alleged by the Hensley plaintiffs. The Supreme Judicial Court ordered the Attorney General and Secretary of the Commonwealth to amend the title and statement, holding (1) the Attorney General did not err in certifying the petition for inclusion on the ballot because the petition contains only related subjects and the summary of the petition is fair; but (2) the petition’s title and the one-sentence statement describing the effect of a “yes” vote are misleading, in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 54, 53. View "Hensley v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

Posted in: Election Law
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On August 5, 2015, sixteen voters submitted Initiative Petition 15-12 to the Attorney General. The petition (1) sought to end the use of the Common Core State Standards in defining the educational curriculum of publicly funded elementary and secondary students in the Commonwealth, and (2) addressed the standardized testing process used in Massachusetts school districts. The Attorney General certified to the Secretary of the Commonwealth that the petition was in the proper form and met the requirements of article 48, The Initiative, II, section 3 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution. On January 22, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a complaint seeking to quash the certification of the petition and to enjoin the Secretary from including the substance of the proposed measure on the November, 2016 ballot. The Supreme Judicial Court granted the requested relief, holding that the Attorney General’s certification of Initiative Petition 15-12 did not comply with article 48 because it contained provisions that were not related or mutually dependent. View "Gray v. Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Eugene McCain filed an initiative petition that sought to amend Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 23K to authorize the Gaming Commission to award one additional license for a slot machine parlor. The Attorney General certified the petition. Plaintiffs, ten registered voters and residents of Suffolk County, brought an action against the Attorney General and the Secretary of the Commonwealth, contending that the petition violated tw restrictions set forth in Article 48 of the Amendments to the Massachusetts Constitution, which sets forth certain standards for initiative petitions. The Supreme Judicial Court denied relief, holding that the petition did not violate Article 48’s restrictions and was therefore properly certified by the Attorney General. View "Bogertman v. Attorney General" on Justia Law