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Case Name Miller v. Thurston VR-AR-0196
Docket / Court 5:20-cv-05070 ( W.D. Ark. )
State/Territory Arkansas
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Special Collection COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)
Healthy Elections COVID litigation tracker
Case Summary
COVID-19 Summary: This case, initially being tracked by the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, was filed by plaintiffs who sought to place a constitutional amendment on the Arkansas ballot. They alleged that Arkansas’s ballot ... read more >
COVID-19 Summary: This case, initially being tracked by the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project, was filed by plaintiffs who sought to place a constitutional amendment on the Arkansas ballot. They alleged that Arkansas’s ballot access requirements were unconstitutional as applied during the COVID-19 pandemic and sought injunctive relief. The district court granted a preliminary injunction for the in-person signature and notarization requirements, which it later made permanent. The defendants appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit, which reversed the District Court’s grant of permanent injunctive relief.


This is a case about the constitutionality of Arkansas’ ballot access requirements as applied during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plaintiffs were a registered Arkansas ballot access committee, a committee canvasser, and two registered Arkansas voters who sought to place a constitutional amendment on the Arkansas ballot. On April 22, 2020, the plaintiffs filed this lawsuit in the Western District of Arkansas. They sued Arkansas’ Secretary of State, alleging that enforcement of Arkansas’ ballot access provisions during the COVID-19 pandemic violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. The challenged provisions included requirements that petition canvassers attach to the petition a notarized affidavit affirming that all the petition signatures were made in the presence of the canvasser. They sought injunctive relief to prohibit Arkansas from enforcing the in-person signature and notarization requirement and to change the ballot access deadline, the number of required signatures, and the permissibility of electronic signatures. The case was assigned to Judge Paul Kinloch Holmes III.

The plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction on the same day the suit was filed. Two days later, on April 24, 2020, they filed a motion to expedite briefing on the motion for preliminary injunction, which the court denied in part and granted it in part. On May 25, 2020, the court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction in part, enjoining the enforcement of the in-person signature and notarization requirements. The court held that the plaintiffs had made sufficient showing that these requirements substantially restricted political discussion; as such, that showing required the court to apply a heightened level of scrutiny. However, the court did not find that the plaintiffs had made the same showing with regard to the ballot access deadline and the other signature requirements. Because these claims did not trigger heightened scrutiny, they were not likely to succeed on the merits, as required for a preliminary injunction. 462 F.Supp.3d 930.

Prior to the court granting the preliminary injunction, on May 12, 2020, the defendant moved to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim. Subsequently, the court denied this motion as moot on May 29, 2020. On the same day, the court ordered that the preliminary injunction for the plaintiffs would be made permanent. 2020 WL 6603171.

As a result of these judgments, the defendants appealed to the Eighth Circuit on June 1, 2020 (20-2095). Alongside the appeal, the defendants moved the court to stay the case pending the appeal, which the district court denied on June 2, 2020. 2020 WL 2850223.

On July 23, 2020, the Eighth Circuit issued an opinion reversing the District Court’s grant of permanent injunctive relief. Judges Gruender, Wollman, and Grasz held that the in-person signature and notarization requirements did not substantially restrict political discussion or sufficiently burden the First Amendment. As a result, it found that the lower court erred in applying a heightened standard of review to these requirements and the plaintiffs’ claims failed on the merits. 967 F.3d 727.

As of April 2021, the case is ongoing.

Sarah Bender - 04/16/2021


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
COVID-19
Mitigation Denied
General
Voting
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Voting
Election administration
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Secretary of State for the State of Arkansas
Plaintiff Description A registered Arkansas ballot access committee, a committee canvasser, and two registered Arkansas voters
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party None Yet / None
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief None yet
Source of Relief None yet
Filed 04/22/2020
Case Ongoing Yes
Additional Resources
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  See this case at CourtListener.com (May provide additional documents and, for active cases, real-time alerts)
  Miller v. Thurston (Arkansas Redistricting Initiative)
Campaign Legal Center
Date: Sep. 16, 2020
By: Corey Goldstone
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Miller v. Thurston
Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project
Date: September 7, 2020
By: Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project (Stanford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
W.D. Ark.
08/18/2020
5:20-cv-05070-PKH
VR-AR-0196-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
W.D. Ark.
04/22/2020
Complaint [ECF# 2]
VR-AR-0196-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
W.D. Ark.
05/25/2020
Opinion and Order [ECF# 41] (462 F.Supp.3d 930)
VR-AR-0196-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
06/15/2020
Order (2020 WL 3240600)
VR-AR-0196-0003.pdf | WESTLAW | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
06/18/2020
Appelant's Brief [Ct. of App. ECF# 4925024]
VR-AR-0196-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
U.S. Court of Appeals
07/23/2020
Opinion (967 F.3d 727)
VR-AR-0196-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
show all people docs
Judges Gans, Michael E. Court not on record show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0003
Grasz, Leonard Steven (Eighth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0005
Gruender, Raymond W. (Eighth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0005
Holmes, P. K. III Court not on record show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0002 | VR-AR-0196-9000
Wollman, Roger Leland (Eighth Circuit) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0005
Plaintiff's Lawyers Couch, David A. (Arkansas) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0001 | VR-AR-0196-9000
Gaber, Mark P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0001 | VR-AR-0196-9000
Greenwood, Ruth Merewyn (Illinois) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0001 | VR-AR-0196-9000
Harless, Annabelle Elizabeth (Illinois) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0001 | VR-AR-0196-9000
Lamar, Christopher (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0001 | VR-AR-0196-9000
Weiner, Robert N. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0001 | VR-AR-0196-9000
Defendant's Lawyers Bird, William C. (Arkansas) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-9000
Bronni, Nicholas Jacob (Arkansas) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0004
Cantrell, Michael (Arkansas) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0004 | VR-AR-0196-9000
Rutledge, Leslie (Arkansas) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0004
Wagner, Vincent Moore (Arkansas) show/hide docs
VR-AR-0196-0004 | VR-AR-0196-9000

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