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Valenti v. Lawson

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 7, 2018

Brian Valenti, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Connie Lawson, Indiana Secretary of State, in her official capacity, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued March 30, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 1:15-cv-01304-WTL-MPB - William T. Lawrence, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook and Rovner, Circuit Judges, and Gilbert, District Judge. [*]


         Plaintiff Brian Valenti is a convicted felon and registered sex offender. Even though his felony conviction is predicated on a sexual act with a child victim, Valenti believes that the state of Indiana is violating his right to vote by refusing to let him enter a polling site located at a school. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the state defendants. We affirm.


         In 1993, Brian Valenti was convicted in California state court of a "Lewd or Lascivious Act with [a] Child Under 14 Years"-a felony in violation of Cal. Penal Code § 288. He served ten years in prison for the conviction. Valenti later moved to Indiana, where he registered as a sex offender. The state considers Valenti to be a "serious sex offender" because his offense involved a child victim. Ind. Code § 35-42-4- 14(a)(2). Unsurprisingly, Indiana makes it a felony for these "serious sex offenders" to knowingly or intentionally enter school property. Ind. Code § 35-42-4-14(b).

         The issue here is that on election days, Valenti's neighborhood polling place is on school property: the Blackford County High School gymnasium, which is about three miles from Valenti's home. Indiana allows felons like Valenti to vote once they are no longer imprisoned. Ind. Code § 3-7-13- 5. But if Valenti intentionally enters the high school grounds to vote, he commits a felony in violation of § 35-42-4-14(b). The state-presumably anticipating this dilemma-provides serious sex offenders with the ability to vote by absentee ballot instead. Ind. Code § 3-11-10-24(a)(12). Indiana also permits Valenti to vote (1) at the county courthouse 500 yards from his home at least one day before the election, and (2) on election days at a civic center about 12 miles away from his home.

         But that is not enough for Valenti: he argues that Indiana is violating his constitutional right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments by banning him from the polling site at Blackford County High School. So he brought this as-applied challenge for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Indiana Secretary of State, the individual members of the Indiana Election Commission, the Superintendent of the Indiana State Police, and the Blackford County Prosecutor, all in their official capacities.

         In short, Valenti believes that the three alternative methods of voting that Indiana provides are vastly inferior to voting at the local high school. First, he considers voting to be a celebration of his American rights, and he wants to engage in that celebration with his closest neighbors at his neighborhood polling place. Next, most of the local candidates go to the high school-not the civic center 12 miles away-and Valenti wants the chance to engage with them before voting. Third, he believes that the absentee ballot process is riddled with flaws that may lead to his vote not counting. And finally, he asserts that if he must vote early by absentee ballot or at the county courthouse, he will miss out on the "late- breaking news" that is so pervasive in today's 24-hour news cycle.

         The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment below. The district court entered judgment in favor of the state defendants, holding that under the flexible balancing test mandated in Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428, 112 S.Ct. 2059, 119 L.Ed.2d 245 (1992) and its progeny, the state's interest in preventing serious sex offenders from entering school property outweighed the minimal burden on Valenti's rights-especially considering the ample alternative methods of voting available to Valenti. Valenti now appeals.


         We review de novo a district court's decision to grant or deny summary judgment to a party. C.G. Schmidt, Inc. v. Permasteelisa N. Am., 825 F.3d 801, 805 (7th Cir. 2016). When reviewing cross-motions for summary judgment, "all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the party against whom the motion at issue was made." Tripp v. Scholz, 872 F.3d 857, 862 (7th Cir. 2017). Summary judgment is appropriate when there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and ...

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