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Libertarian Party of Arkansas v. Martin

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 30, 2017

Libertarian Party of Arkansas; Kristin Vaughn; Robert Chris Hayes; Debrah Standiford; Michael Pakko Plaintiffs - Appellees
Mark Martin, in his official capacity as Secretary of State for the State of Arkansas Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: September 20, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock

          Before WOLLMAN, MELLOY, and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges.


         The Libertarian Party of Arkansas, Kristin Vaughn, Robert Chris Hayes, Debrah Standiford and Michael Pakko (collectively Libertarian Party) brought a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief action against the Arkansas Secretary of State, claiming that the ballot access statutory scheme violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The scheme required new political parties to hold a nominating convention prior to the major parties' preferential primary election. The district court[1] granted declaratory relief, denied injunctive relief, denied the Secretary of State's motion to reconsider, and awarded costs and attorney's fees to the Libertarian Party. The Secretary of State appealed, and during the pendency of the appeal the Arkansas General Assembly amended its statute to allow new political parties to hold their nominating convention and submit their certificates of nomination at 12:00 p.m. on the day of the major parties' primary election. Concluding that the Libertarian Party's claim for declaratory relief has been rendered moot, we vacate the judgment and remand the case with directions that the complaint be dismissed. We affirm the award of costs and attorney's fees.

         The Libertarian Party of Arkansas petitioned for recognition as a political party under Arkansas law in June 2015.[2] See Ark. Code Ann. § 7-7-205. Arkansas law requires new political parties to nominate their candidates for the first general election by convention rather than by primary election. See Ark. Code Ann. § 7-7-205(c)(2). Arkansas law also requires that a candidate nominated by convention "file a political practices pledge . . . during the party filing period." Ark. Code Ann. § 7-7-205(c)(3) (2013), amended by Ark. Code Ann. § 7-7-205(c)(3) (2017); Act 1356 of 2013.[3]

         The Libertarian Party held its nominating convention on October 24, 2015, and successfully nominated twenty-two candidates for the 2016 general election. See Ark. Code Ann. § 7-7-205(c)(2). Some candidates, however, failed to pursue their candidacy. Thereafter, the Libertarian Party held a second convention on February 27, 2016, and attempted to file political practice pledges for four additional candidates, which the Arkansas Secretary of State declined to do because the filing deadline had passed. The Arkansas preferential primary election was held on March 1, 2016, and the general primary runoff election was held on March 22, 2016.

         The Libertarian Party's complaint alleged that it should be allowed to select its nominees for partisan political office at the same time that the Republicans and Democrats conduct their preferential primary election. The complaint sought a declaratory judgment that Arkansas Code sections 7-7-101 and 7-7-205(c)(1)-(3) are unconstitutional and an injunction requiring that the names of the four candidates that were nominated during the Libertarian Party's February 2016 convention be printed on the Arkansas general election ballot. The complaint contended that because of the early date of the nominating convention, the Libertarian Party "in many cases, had little time to get to know [its] candidates who showed up at the nominating convention on October 24, 2015, let alone, have the time for extended discussion and review of developing political events in contrast to what is allowed for the Republican and Democratic Parties." Appellee's Br. 5.

         Applying the Supreme Court's balancing test in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351, 358 (1997), the district court concluded that "[e]ven though the Court finds the Libertarian Party of Arkansas' burden to be minor, there is no interest, regulatory or otherwise, to justify this restriction by the State." See also Green Party of Ark. v. Martin, 649 F.3d. 675 (8th Cir. 2011) (analyzing the constitutionality of a ballot access statute under the Timmons balancing test). The court granted declaratory relief and found the Arkansas statutory scheme unconstitutional. The court denied the request for injunctive relief, however, concluding that one of the nominees had missed the filing deadline for personal reasons and that the remaining nominees had offered no evidence that they were unable to file by the required deadline.

         The Libertarian Party thereafter sought an award of costs and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The Secretary of State objected, arguing, inter alia, that such an award was not justified because the Libertarian Party had not succeeded on all of its claims and therefore was not the prevailing party, as required by statute. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The Secretary of State also filed a motion to reconsider and alter or amend the judgment, which the district court denied. The district court found the Libertarian Party to be the prevailing party and awarded $29, 619.38 in costs and attorney's fees. The Secretary of State then filed this appeal, arguing that the Libertarian Party lacked standing, that the statutory scheme was constitutional, and that the district court erred in awarding costs and attorney's fees and abused its discretion by denying the Secretary's motion to alter or amend the judgment.

         After the appeals were briefed, the Arkansas General Assembly amended its statutory requirements by changing the certificate of nomination filing deadline for new political parties to 12:00 p.m. on the day of the preferential primary election. Act 297, 2017 Ark. Acts. 297 (Feb. 28, 2017), codified at Ark. Code Ann. § 7-7-205(c) (2017) (changing the filing deadline for certificates of nomination to "no later than 12:00 noon on the dates of the preferential primary election"). It also provided that a new party's nominating convention "shall be held no later than 12:00 noon on the date of the preferential primary election." Ark. Code Ann. § 7-7-205(c)(B)(i).


         Federal court jurisdiction is restricted to "cases" and "controversies." Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 94 (1968). This jurisdictional "requirement subsists through all stages of federal judicial proceedings, trial and appellate." Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U.S. 472, 477 (1990). We will dismiss a case as moot when "changed circumstances [have] already provide[d] the requested relief and eliminate[d] the need for court action." Teague v. Cooper, 720 F.3d 973, 976 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting City of Mesquite v. Aladdin's Castle, Inc., 455 U.S. 283, 289 n.10 (1982) (internal quotation marks omitted)). "When a law has been amended or repealed, actions seeking declaratory or injunctive relief for earlier versions are generally moot unless the problems are capable of repetition yet evading review." Phelps-Roper v. City of Manchester, 697 F.3d 678, 687 (8th Cir. 2012) (en banc) (internal citation and alterations omitted).

         The Libertarian Party argues that the amended statute remains problematic because an independent party will still be required to hold its nominating convention earlier than the primary election in order to comply with the 12:00 p.m. filing deadline, given that it will have to accommodate voter travel time and the time required to certify the nominations. Further, it contends that by requiring new political parties to hold a nominating convention before the preferential primary election, the statute gives Republicans and Democrats the advantage of learning the identities of the minority party candidates, thus allowing them to select ...

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