Case: Driscoll v. Stapleton

20-00408 | Montana state trial court

Filed Date: March 13, 2020

Closed Date: Sept. 29, 2020

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This lawsuit, filed on March 13, 2020, was brought in the Montana state district court for the Thirteenth District in Yellowstone County. The plaintiffs were the Chair of the Montana Democratic Party Robyn Driscoll, the Montana Democratic Party, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and they brought suit against the Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton. Plaintiffs were represented by private counsel. The complaint centered around three absentee voting restrictions passed in 20…

This lawsuit, filed on March 13, 2020, was brought in the Montana state district court for the Thirteenth District in Yellowstone County. The plaintiffs were the Chair of the Montana Democratic Party Robyn Driscoll, the Montana Democratic Party, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and they brought suit against the Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton. Plaintiffs were represented by private counsel.

The complaint centered around three absentee voting restrictions passed in 2019. The first was the Absentee Ballot Assistance Ban, which limited the types of people permitted to take into possession a voter's absentee ballot. Additionally, the Registration Requirement mandated that all people who did take absentee ballots into possession sign a registry giving information about the voter and the person assisting the voter. Finally, the Election Day Cutoff voided all ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day, meaning that if a voter submitted an absentee ballot by mail they would have to do so a week or more before Election Day to ensure that the ballot would be counted. The plaintiffs argued that these provisions represented violations of the Montana constitution's guarantees of suffrage, free speech, and procedural due process. The suffrage claim contended that the benefits to these restrictions were insufficiently weighty to justify the restrictions to the ballot. Regarding free speech, the complaint alleged that the Absentee Ballot Assistance Ban and the Registration Requirement imposed barriers to voter turnout efforts, which were a form of political speech. Finally, the procedural due process arguments claimed that these provisions failed to provide procedural protections necessary to ensure voters' rights to the ballot. The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief that would prohibit the state's enforcement of these provisions.

On May 22, the court granted a preliminary injunction that prohibited the state from enforcing both the Absentee Ballot Assistance Ban and the Registration Requirement. It also mandated the government to count all ballots postmarked on or before the election day.

The defendants appealed to the Montana Supreme Court. Their June 26 brief contended that the district court erred when they applied a strict scrutiny standard to evaluating Montana's election laws. The plaintiffs, on the other hand, argued that statutes violated their fundamental right to vote and were therefore properly enjoined.

Meanwhile, several Native American groups had intervened, siding with the plaintiffs. These Native American groups were litigating similar issues in Western Native Voices v. Stapleton, but because the appeal in that case would not be decided before the election, the Montana Supreme Court decided to let them intervene here. More information about Western Native Voices v. Stapleton can be found here. The Montana Legislatures, represented by the Montana Speaker of the House and Montana State Senate President, also moved to intervene, but their motions were denied on August 11.

In an opinion written by Justice Beth Baker and published on September 29, 2020, the Montana Supreme Court reversed the district court's preliminary injunction against the election-day ballot deadline, but affirmed the preliminary injunction against the ballot-delivery restriction. The case is now closed.

Summary Authors

Jack Hibbard (8/13/2020)

Justin Hill (12/18/2020)

People


Judge(s)

Baker, Beth (Montana)

Harris, Donald L. (Montana)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Gordon, Matthew (Washington)

Meloy, Peter M (Montana)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Brown, Aislinn W (Montana)

Fox, Timothy C. (Montana)

Segrest, J Stuart (Montana)

Tokerud, Hannah E (Montana)

Other Attorney(s)

Active

Judge(s)

Baker, Beth (Montana)

Harris, Donald L. (Montana)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Gordon, Matthew (Washington)

Meloy, Peter M (Montana)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Brown, Aislinn W (Montana)

Fox, Timothy C. (Montana)

Segrest, J Stuart (Montana)

Tokerud, Hannah E (Montana)

Other Attorney(s)

Rate, Alex (Montana)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

20-00408

Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief

March 13, 2020

March 13, 2020

Complaint

20-00408

Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, Memorandum, and Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction

May 22, 2020

May 22, 2020

Order/Opinion

OP 20-0293

Petition for Writ of Supervisory Control

Stapleton v. Driscoll

Montana state supreme court

May 26, 2020

May 26, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

DA 20-0295

Appellant Corey Stapleton's Opening Brief

Montana state supreme court

June 26, 2020

June 26, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

DA 20-0295

Appellees' Brief

Stapleton v. Driscoll

Montana state supreme court

July 27, 2020

July 27, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

DA 20-0295

Intervenors Western Native Voice, Montana Native Vote, Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of Fort Peck, [...] and Fort Belknap Indian Community's Answer Brief

Montana state supreme court

July 27, 2020

July 27, 2020

Pleading / Motion / Brief

DA 20-0295

Opinion

Montana state supreme court

Sept. 29, 2020

Sept. 29, 2020

Order/Opinion

Resources

Docket

Last updated Aug. 20, 2022, 3:01 a.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Montana

Case Type(s):

Election/Voting Rights

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 13, 2020

Closing Date: Sept. 29, 2020

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

MT Democratic Party, DSCC, Chair of MT Democratic Party

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Attorney Organizations:

Perkins Coie

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Due Process: Procedural Due Process

Freedom of speech/association

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Mixed

Nature of Relief:

Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief granted

Issues

General:

Voting

Voting access

Voting:

Election administration

Vote dilution