Judge Ejected in Nevada Voter-Access Squabble

     (CN) – A federal judge improperly tossed claims that Nevada made it harder to register people to vote, the Ninth Circuit ruled, finding that a different jurist should handle the case on remand “to maintain the appearance of justice.”
     Three groups dedicated to minority civil rights had brought the underlying action in 2012, contending that Nevada officials had violated a section of the National Voter Registration Act that requires states to distribute voter-registration materials and provide help for people who visit public offices and make requests.
     The National Council of La Raza, which bills itself as the nation’s largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organizations, filed the lawsuit with the Las Vegas and Reno-Sparks chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
     They claimed that Nevada’s failure to get out the vote has affected the communities of their members, and has made the groups spend more money and use more resources to compensate for the state’s failures.
     U.S. District Judge Robert Jones dismissed the suit in August 2012, however, finding that neither La Raza nor the NAACP chapters had demonstrated an injury that could be attributed to the state’s actions.
     A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit found Thursday that the civil-rights groups plausibly claimed an injury that can be traced to violations of Section 7 of the NVRA.
     They faulted the trial judge for misreading the group’s complaint.
     “Resources plaintiffs put toward registering someone who would likely have been registered by the state, had it complied with the NVRA, are resources they would have spent on some other aspect of their organizational purpose – such as registering voters the NVRA’s provisions do not reach, increasing their voter education efforts, or any other activity that advances their goals,” Judge William Fletcher wrote for the court. “Contrary to the district judge’s view, plaintiffs have not alleged that they are simply going about their ‘business as usual,’ unaffected by the state’s conduct.
     “We have no difficulty concluding that plaintiffs have adequately alleged that the injury they suffer is attributable to the state,” Fletcher added.
     The San Francisco-based panel called it “unusual” that Jones dismissed the case for lack of standing even though Nevada had withdrawn the motion.
     Fletcher recites a series of other errors that the trial judge committed in his brief involvement with the case.
     “It is impossible to read these allegations and to conclude that there is no reasonable possibility that some of the violations plaintiffs uncovered in December were continuing as of the dates of the notice and the complaint,” the 29-page opinion states.
     Finding that the complaint satisfied two forms of standing, the court also found that Jones “abused his discretion” by dismissing the case for lack of standing without giving the plaintiffs an opportunity to amend.
     “We reluctantly conclude that we must reassign this case,” Fletcher wrote. “The errors made by the district judge may suggest to a reasonable outside observer that reassignment ‘to maintain the appearance of justice’ is necessary.”
     Judge Morgan Christen rounded out the panel with and Senior U.S. District Judge Roslyn Silver, sitting by designation from Arizona.
     The Reno-Sparks NAACP noted in a statement that “the flouting of the law could have resulted from a combination of state budget cuts, poor communication and bad administration.”
     “The most disappointing thing was the state’s defensive and expensive response rather than ‘fessing up and just trying to fix the problem,” the group said in a statement.
     State officials and representatives for La Raza did not return a request for comment.

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