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The Fight Over Ohio's Election Laws Fizzles From Mootness

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on December 15, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit just granted the State of Ohio's motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Libertarian Party of Ohio in what had become a "long struggle."

The Party had previously tasted defeat when the district court granted partial summary judgment to the State, ruling that Ohio's voting statutes did not violate the First Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment; and that Sovereign Immunity clothed the state in Teflon. This latest ruling basically just killed the Party's request to revisit those findings.

Unequal Treatment Claims

Several years ago, American Constitution Party member Tom Tancredo very nearly became the Governor of Ohio when scandal-ridden Dan Maes came back to steal away Tancredo's critical right-wing votes. Maes refused to drop out and stubbornly stuck around. The result? John Hickenlooper became Ohio's Governor.

The entire episode prompted Ohio's Senate into passing third-party ballot rules that would all but exclude any candidates besides democratic and republican nominees.

Opposition and Court Opinion

Ohio's Libertarian Party and Green Party, which had previously been able to run based on Ohio's previous laws, were essentially history so far as getting ballot representation. The Libertarian Party sued and claimed unequal treatment under Ohio's election laws. At the district level, the court found against the Libertarians on all of their major points, also finding that sovereign immunity barred state Constitutional Claims. Thus, a preliminary injunction should have been unlawful.

Motion Madness

Denials of the sort that the Libertarians suffered are generally appealable under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1), but the Libertarians instead filed a Rule 54(b), asking the court to treat it as a Rule 59 modification and extension request, except only with leave to appeal.

The Sixth Circuit dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction. The problem lay in the fact that the Party had essentially tried to request that the motion be made appealable through a vehicle that was normally used to seek a modification. Since the more proper route would have been to seek an appeal for the relevant portions of the order under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1), those portions that the Party sought to "appeal" by preliminary injunction were already entered in as a judgment under FRCP Rule 54(a). Essentially, the point was moot.

Know Your Motions?

Even lawyers who've been at the game can get lost in that forest which is motion practice. There seems to be no choice but for litigators to study each case studiously in order to master the intricacies of each rule, and the foibles and moods of each court. This could have gone either way.

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