MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
All of the plaintiffs in these four actions--initially a group of plaintiffs headed by Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (in 95 C 174), then another group headed by the League of Women Voters of Illinois ("LWV"
) (in 95 C 281), next the United States (in 95 C 433) and finally the League of United Latin American Citizens ("LULAC") (in 95 C 1387)--complain of Illinois' refusal to comply with the mandates of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("Act," 42 U.S.C. §§ 1973gg to 1973gg-10
). For their part defendants (State of Illinois and various of its officials, including Governor Jim Edgar, all of whom are collectively referred to for convenience as the singular proper noun "Illinois") acknowledge that Illinois is one of the tiny group of holdout States in that respect--and Illinois seeks to justify its noncompliance by asserting the Act's unconstitutionality.
Originally the United States moved for a preliminary injunction, and this Court focused the parties' energies toward a hearing on that motion. But now the United States has shifted to a motion for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. ("Rule") 56 (earlier LWV had filed a like motion in its own action), and that has put the preliminary injunction motion into the background while the parties have completed their Rule 56 submissions.
At this point the United States' summary judgment motion (in which each of the other three sets of plaintiffs has joined orally
) is ready for decision.
For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order, plaintiffs' Rule 56 motion is granted.
No outcome-determinative factual disputes exist in the areas that the United States has accurately portrayed as material to the decision in these cases (see Ex. 1 to this opinion, United States' GR 12(m) statement, which this Court finds to be correct in all material respects and therefore adopts). To the extent that Illinois does not simply admit the United States' GR 12(m) assertions, Illinois' stated objections are often quibbles--and in all events they are legally immaterial. For example, Illinois GR 12(n) P 4 says that some of its driver's license examination stations are temporary voter registration places manned by volunteers, with a majority (about 60%) of its employees appointed as Deputy Registrars. Similarly, Illinois GR 12(n) P 5 says that Illinois provides some volunteer services of the nature called for by Act § 7. But such facts (and all the others that are set out in Illinois' response to the GR 12(m) statement) do not blink the overriding fact that Illinois does not comply with all of the Act's requirements and that it has no intention of doing so.
As for Illinois' lengthy GR 12(n)(3)(b) supplement (to which the United States has not been called upon for a response), it merely sets the framework for the legal arguments that this opinion hereafter finds wanting as a matter of law. Illinois' Paragraphs 1-11 simply summarize the provisions of the Act, its Paragraphs 12-14 recite that the Act provides no opt-out escape hatch, and its Paragraphs 15-89 set out the existing structure of Illinois' governmental units and how they would assertedly have to adapt themselves to respond to the Act. Finally its Paragraphs 90-103 set out Illinois' views (through Executive Director Ronald Michaelson of its State Board of Elections ("Board")) that the Act will undercut its efforts to combat election fraud. But on that last point, it would turn the Constitution on its head to contend that Illinois' views can prevail over Congress' when it comes to registration of voters for federal elections--and nothing in the Act inhibits Illinois' ability to adhere to its own views in connection with its own state and local elections.
As the United States has shown and as Illinois does not effectively contest, Illinois' Board was preparing to implement the Act in late 1994 (before the Act's required compliance date of January 1, 1995). But although the Illinois General Assembly was then in session and was thus able to take whatever action might be necessary for that purpose, those things simply were not done. Instead Illinois balked and decided that it would not take any of the additional steps that the Act prescribes.
What Illinois sets out by way of response is really a gauntlet-throwing defense: Essentially it takes the position that it knows better than Congress what should be done to facilitate voter registration (see attached Ex. 2, the December 30, 1994 letter from the office of Governor Edgar to the United States). But the discussion that follows confirms the obvious: that as to registration for federal elections, it is Congress and not Illinois whose judgment must control (although under the Constitution Illinois does prescribe the qualifications that any voter, either federal or state, must meet before he or she is permitted to register--a principle that is not at all encroached upon by the Act).
Constitutionality of the Act
This Court writes on a clean slate in the legal sense. Both because only a few states other than Illinois have refused to comply with the Act and because of the short time span that has elapsed since the Act's January 1, 1995 effective date, the only judicial opinion that has addressed the Act's constitutionality is the March 2, 1995 decision of United States District Judge James Ware in Wilson v. United States, Nos. C 95-20042JW and 94-20860 JW, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3235 (ND. Cal.). And it is of course conventional wisdom (and we District Judges are regularly reminded by our Court of Appeals) that District Court decisions do not create precedent even at home, let alone abroad ( Colby v. J.C. Penney Co., 811 F.2d 1119, 1124 (7th Cir. 1987), reconfirmed in such opinions as In re Smith, 964 F.2d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1992) and Gould v. Bowyer, 11 F.3d 82, 84 (7th Cir. 1993)).
Nevertheless Wilson provides guidance both because of its identical subject matter and because Illinois, as did California, seeks to rely on New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 120 L. Ed. 2d 120, 112 S. Ct. 2408 (1992) as assertedly pointing the way to a decision of the Act's unconstitutionality. And as the ensuing discussion reflects, this Court agrees with Judge Ware that New York is not at all in point here.
To turn to the matter at hand, three provisions of the United States Constitution (not merely in conjunction, but for two distinct analytical reasons) give the lie to Illinois' position. Here is the first clause of Art. I, § 4 (emphasis added):
The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.7