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De La Fuente v. Padilla

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 19, 2019

Roque De La Fuente, AKA Rocky, Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State; State Of California, Defendants-Appellees

          Argued and Submitted March 12, 2019 San Francisco, California

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California Michael W. Fitzgerald, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:16-cv-03242-MWF-GJS

          Paul A. Rossi (argued), Mountville, Pennsylvania, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Jonathan M. Eisenberg (argued), Deputy Attorney General; Xavier Becerra, Attorney General of California; Thomas S. Patterson, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Stepan A. Haytayan, Supervising Deputy Attorney General; Office of the California Attorney General, Los Angeles, California; for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: J. Clifford Wallace, A. Wallace Tashima, and M. Margaret McKeown, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Civil Rights

         The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of an action brought by independent presidential candidate Roque De La Fuente challenging two California ballot access laws, Cal. Elec. Code §§ 8400, 8403, which require independent candidates to collect signatures from one percent of California's registered voters-over 170, 000 signatures-to appear on a statewide ballot.

         The panel first held that De La Fuente had standing because he suffered a concrete injury that was not merely speculative. The panel noted that De La Fuente's declaration confirmed that he is running for President of the United States in 2020.

         Applying the balancing framework in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983), and Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428 (1992), the panel held that California's overall scheme does not significantly impair ballot access. The panel stated that Sections 8400 and 8403 were generally applicable, even-handed, politically neutral, and aimed at protecting the reliability and integrity of the election process. The panel concluded that the ballot access laws reasonably related to California's important regulatory interests in managing its democratic process and were proportionate to California's large voter population.

          OPINION

          MCKEOWN, CIRCUIT JUDGE

         We examine yet another state's regulation of ballot access as we consider a challenge to ballot qualification laws in California, the country's most populous state. See, e.g., Ariz. Libertarian Party v. Hobbs, 925 F.3d 1085 (9th Cir. 2019) (addressing Arizona ballot regulations). Together, two California ballot access laws require independent candidates to collect signatures from one percent of California's registered voters-over 170, 000 signatures-to appear on a statewide ballot. Independent presidential candidate Roque De La Fuente challenges these requirements as unconstitutional.

         After losing the 2016 Democratic presidential primary in California, De La Fuente wanted to continue his candidacy in the general election as an independent candidate. But he faced what he argues is a "cost prohibitive" obstacle: sections 8400 and 8403 of California's ballot access laws (collectively, "Ballot Access Laws"). Cal. Elec. Code §§ 8400, 8403. Under section 8400, independent candidates running for statewide office must collect signatures from one percent of all registered voters. Id. § 8400 (requiring independent candidates to collect signatures from "voters of the state equal to not less in number than 1 percent of the entire number of registered voters of the state at the time of the close of registration prior to the preceding general election"). Section 8403 requires independent candidates to collect the signatures at least 88, but no more than 193, days before the election. Id. § 8403(a). So, in 2016, De La Fuente had to collect 178, 039 valid signatures in 105 days to appear on the general election ballot.

         Assuming he needed paid canvassers and twice as many signatures to ensure a comfortable margin of error, De La Fuente estimated the cost of ballot access to be three to four million dollars. He argues that such an expense makes running statewide "cost prohibitive," unconstitutionally burdening rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments. De La Fuente points out that the next highest state signature requirement is about 60, 000 fewer (in Florida) and that no independent candidate has appeared on ...


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