Justia Nebraska Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law

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Appellants filed a complaint challenging a referendum petition. The purpose of the petition was to refer to the voters in the November 2016 general election the question of whether the death penalty should be reinstated. Appellants sought to enjoin the Secretary of State from placing the referendum on the ballot, alleging that the referendum petition was not legally sufficient because a list of sponsors filed with the petition did not include the name of Governor Pete Ricketts, who allegedly engaged in activities that established that he was a sponsor of the referendum. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Ricketts’ alleged financial or other support of the referendum did not make him a a person “sponsoring the petition,” as that phrase is used in Neb. Rev. Stat. 32-1405(1); and (2) therefore, the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. View "Hargesheimer v. Gale" on Justia Law
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Two employees of Northwest Rural Public Power District (NRPPD), a political subdivision, purchased short radio advertisements on the subject of wind energy, electricity rates, and generation duplication, which were broadcast before the November 2, 2010 general election. Michael Van Buskirk, a candidate for NRPPD’s board of directors, filed complaints with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (Commission), contending the radio advertisements were directed at his campaign. The Commission found that the employees had expended public funds “for the purpose of campaigning” in violation of the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act (Act). The district court reversed, concluding that the use of NRPPD funds to purchase the advertisements did not constitute “campaigning” within the definition of the Act. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court’s conclusion that the employees had not violated the Act was based on an interpretation of the statute that was contrary to law. Remanded. View "Neb. Accountability & Disclosure Comm’n v. Skinner" on Justia Law

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After the U.S. Supreme Court declared a campaign finance statute in Arizona to be unconstitutional, the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission sought an opinion from the Nebraska attorney general as to the constitutionality of Nebraska's Campaign Finance Limitation Act (CFLA). Under the CFLA, candidates for certain covered elective offices and other public officials could choose to abide or not to abide by voluntary spending limits. A candidate who abided by the limits and raises and spent qualifying amounts in accordance with the CFLA became eligible for public funds. The attorney general opined that the CFLA would likely be found to be unconstitutional by a court, and the Commission determined it would not enforce the CFLA. The attorney general was then directed to file an action in court to determine the validity of the CFLA. The Supreme Court found that the CFLA substantially burdened the First Amendment rights of Nebraska citizens and that it was, therefore, unconstitutional. View "State ex rel. Bruning v. Gale" on Justia Law

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Kelly and Paul Rosberg challenged the results of elections for seats on the Public Service Commission (PSC). The Rosbergs lost in the primaries to Gerald Vap and Rod Johnson, respectively. After the general election, the Rosbergs filed suit in the district court, claiming that Vap and Johnson were ineligible for the seats because both Vap and Johnson were not "in good standing" with their professions and were therefore ineligible for the seats. The district court rejected the Rosbergs' claims and granted summary judgment to Vap and Johnson. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the Legislature did not intend service on the PSC to be read as a profession for which one must be "in good standing according to the established standards of" that profession, the district court was correct in dismissing the Rosbergs' challenges. View "Rosberg v. Vap" on Justia Law

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This proceeding arose from an objection filed on March 6, 2012 by Appellant, the Nebraska Republican Party, with the Nebraska Secretary of State in which it challenged, pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat. 32-624, the candidate filing of Bob Kerrey for the U.S. Senate. The Secretary of State issued his determination opinion concluding that Kerrey's name could appear on the May 15, 2012 primary election ballot. Appellant filed a petition for review of the determination opinion. The district court dismissed the case on March 21, 2012 with prejudice. At issue on appeal was whether section 32-624, which requires that an order be made by a judge "on or before the fifty-fifth day preceding the election" in order to reverse a decision of the Secretary of State, would prohibit the Supreme Court from granting relief after that fifty-five-day limitation period had run. The Court dismissed the appeal, holding that under the statutory procedure established by the Legislature, it lacked the authority to grant the relief sought by Appellant because the fifty-five limitation period had run. View "Neb. Republican Party v. Gale" on Justia Law

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The Appellant Rex Moats was a former candidate for the thirty ninth district of Nebraska Legislature. During the course of the 2008 election, the Republican Party paid for and distributed publications in opposition to Moatsâ candidacy. Moats filed a complaint in district court, where he identified in eleven separate publications instances of where he claimed the Republican Party defamed him, portrayed him in a false light and violated several consumer protection laws. The Republican Party filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, and the court granted it, dismissing Moatsâ case. The Supreme Court noted that context was critical to analyzing whether a statement was defamatory, particularly if the statement expressed a fact or opinion. The Court examined the circumstances in which each statement was made, finding they were political campaign brochures intended to persuade voters to vote against Moats through the use of rhetoric and hyperbole. The Court characterized all of the cited statements as âopinionâ and held they were protected speech under the Constitution. The Court could not find that the statements violated consumer protection laws. Accordingly, it affirmed the district courtâs decision to dismiss Moatsâ case.