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Stone v. Board of Election Commissioners for City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

April 25, 2014

JAY STONE, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
BOARD OF ELECTION COMMISSIONERS FOR THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant-Appellee

Argued, February 19, 2014

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 10-cv-7727 -- Robert M. Dow, Jr., Judge.

For Jay Stone, Frederick White, Frank L. Coconate, Denise Denson, Bill " doc" Walls, Howard Ray, Plaintiffs - Appellants: Christopher C. Cooper, Law Office of Christopher Cooper, Inc., Chicago, IL.

For Board of Election Commissioners For The City of Chicago, Defendant - Appellee: Terrence M. Burns, Dykema Gossett Pllc, Chicago, IL; James M. Scanlon, James M. Scanlon & Associates, P.C., Chicago, IL.

Before BAUER, FLAUM, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 679

Flaum, Circuit Judge.

Candidates for Chicago mayor must submit nominating petitions signed by at least 12,500 registered voters to appear on the ballot for the general election. In this case, we consider whether Chicago's ballot

Page 680

access scheme violates rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court, concluding that the scheme was constitutional, dismissed the case for failure to state a claim. We affirm.

I

Under Illinois law, candidates for Chicago mayor, city treasurer, or city clerk must gather signatures from 12,500 " legal voters of the city" to have their name printed on the ballot. 65 ILCS 20/21-28(b). This figure amounts to just under 1% of the 1.3 million or so registered voters in Chicago. As a proportion of active voters, the number is somewhat higher; 12,500 is approximately 2.7% of the number of votes cast in the 2007 mayoral election and 2.1% of those cast in 2011. The precise percentages are not so important--in practice, candidates are advised to give themselves some margin for error, in case of subsequent legal challenges, see Krislov v. Rednour, 226 F.3d 851, 859-60 (7th Cir. 2000)--but, as we shall see, they are helpful to situate Chicago's requirement among other ballot access schemes that have been subject to constitutional challenge. Candidates have ninety days in which to gather their signatures, 10 ILCS 5/10-4, and voters may not sign more than one nominating petition for the same office in a single election cycle, 10 ILCS 5/10-3; 65 ILCS 20/21-28(c).

Chicago's most recent general election took place in February 2011. Twenty candidates submitted nominating petitions to run for mayor. See Eric Zorn, My Early Line on the Mayor's Race, Chi. Tribune (Nov. 23, 2010), http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news_columnists_ezorn/2010/11/earlyline.html. Among the hopefuls were four of the plaintiffs: Howard Ray, Jay Stone, William Walls, and Fredrick White. (The fifth plaintiff, Denise Denson, is a Chicago voter.) Of the four candidate-plaintiffs, however, only Walls gathered enough signatures to appear on the February ballot. Ray, Stone, and White managed just 2625, 250, and 10,200 valid signatures, respectively, and were disqualified.[1]

The plaintiffs promptly sued to enjoin the 12,500-signature requirement and declare it unconstitutional. On January 10, 2011, the district court denied their motion for a preliminary injunction. The plaintiffs filed an interlocutory appeal, but by the time the case reached our court the February election had come and gone--Rahm Emanuel prevailed, Walls came in sixth--and we dismissed their appeal as moot. 643 F.3d 543 (7th Cir. 2011).

The lawsuit then returned to the district court, where the plaintiffs amended their complaint to encompass not just the 12,500-signature requirement itself, but also the ninety-day window for collecting signatures and the rule that a given voter cannot sign more than one candidate's petition in any election cycle. The plaintiffs claimed that these requirements " amplified" the already-heavy burden of gathering the signatures. The district court, however, concluded that their claims had been " soundly rejected by extensive Supreme Court and Seventh Circuit precedent" and on the defendant's motion dismissed the case. 955 F.Supp.2d 886, 900 (N.D. Ill. 2013). Once again, the plaintiffs appeal.

II

We review the legal sufficiency of the plaintiffs' complaint de novo, accepting all

Page 681

well-pleaded allegations as true and making the usual inferences in their favor. Navarro v. Neal, 716 ...


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