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Lyman v. Baker

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 7, 2018

CHARLES D. BAKER, in his official capacity as Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and WILLIAM FRANCIS GALVIN, in his official capacity as Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Defendants.




         The plaintiffs, two Republicans and one Libertarian, challenge the constitutionality of Massachusetts's system for allocating electors in presidential elections. The plaintiffs have voted and plan to continue voting in Massachusetts for presidential candidates who are not members of the Democratic Party. They allege that their votes for these candidates are effectively discarded because Massachusetts has adopted a “winner-take-all” (“WTA”) system for selecting electors. In this system, the candidate receiving the most votes in Massachusetts is awarded all of the Commonwealth's electors, with the other candidates receiving no electors. The plaintiffs seek a declaration that this system violates the United States Constitution -- both the “one person, one vote” principle rooted in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count I) and the voters' freedom of association protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments (Count II). In their view, the Constitution requires a “more equitable” method for distributing electors, one that allocates electors proportionately to parties.

         The Complaint seeks a declaration that the WTA system is unconstitutional and a corresponding injunction. It also asks the Court to impose a deadline by which state authorities must implement a valid method of selecting electors.

         The defendants have moved to dismiss based on Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. After hearing, the Court concludes that the Massachusetts winner-take-all system of selecting electors in presidential elections is constitutional. The motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 21) is ALLOWED.


         The following facts are drawn from the Complaint. I. The Parties Plaintiff William F. Weld is a registered Libertarian and the former Republican Governor of Massachusetts. Plaintiffs Richard J. Lyman and Robert D. Capodilupo are registered Republicans. All three plaintiffs are Massachusetts residents. They have consistently voted for non-Democratic candidates for president, and they intend to continue to do so in future presidential elections.

         Defendant Charles D. Baker is the Governor of Massachusetts. Defendant William Francis Galvin is the Secretary of the Commonwealth, and his office administers elections. Both are sued in their official capacities.

         II. Winner-Take-All Selection of Electors

         Massachusetts, along with 47 other states and the District of Columbia, has adopted statutes under which its electors for president and vice president are appointed on a winner-take-all (“WTA”) basis. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 54, § 118 (stating that electors “who have received the highest number of votes . . . shall . . . be deemed to be elected”). Under this system, the political party of the candidate who receives the most votes in Massachusetts appoints all of the Commonwealth's electors. See id. For example, in 2016, Secretary Hillary Clinton received 60 percent of the votes in Massachusetts and all of its electors. President Donald Trump received 32.8 percent of the Massachusetts vote, but none of its electors.

         The end result of the WTA system is that the top vote-getter receives all of the Commonwealth's electors, and the other candidates receive no electors. This is true regardless of whether the winning candidate earns a majority or a mere plurality of the popular vote. See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 54, § 118 (requiring governor and secretary of state to collect names of presidential electors who receive more than one-fifth of entire number of votes cast for electors and deeming the highest vote-getter the winner). And it applies regardless of whether the candidate wins by a large margin or a slim one. See id.

         The plaintiffs allege that the WTA system weakens the influence of Massachusetts voters in presidential elections. They claim that the WTA system leads candidates to focus disproportionate attention on “battleground” states that represent only 35 percent of eligible voters nationwide. In addition, they allege that the WTA system facilitates outside interference in presidential elections because a small number of voters in predictable battleground states exert undue influence over the presidential election results.


         I. Standing

         Moving to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), the defendants' attack the plaintiffs' standing to bring this case. To satisfy standing, “[t]he party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing [three] elements.” Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). First, the plaintiff must have suffered an “injury in fact” -- that is, an invasion of a legally protected interest which is both “concrete and particularized, ” and “actual or imminent, ” as opposed to “conjectural or hypothetical.” Id. at 560. “Second, there must be a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of.” Id. “Third, it must be likely,' as opposed to merely ‘speculative,' that the injury will be ‘redressed by a favorable decision.'” Id. at 561 (quoting Simon v. Eastern Ky. Welfare Rights Org., 426 U.S. 26, 38, 43 (1976)).

         In their brief, the defendants attacked two of these requirements: injury-in-fact and redressability. At oral argument, the parties agreed that the injury-in-fact analysis overlaps with the merits of the plaintiffs' constitutional claims. In other words, if WTA is unconstitutional, then the plaintiffs have suffered an injury-in-fact; otherwise, they have not. See Erwin Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction § 2.3.2 (4th ed. 2003) (describing how, in some cases, “deciding whether there is an injury to a legally protected constitutional interest . . . requires inquiry into the merits of the case”).

         Accordingly, the Court will proceed directly to analyzing the plaintiffs' constitutional claims under the well-established standard for Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must analyze whether the complaint contains sufficient factual matter to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009) .

         II. “One Person, One Vote” Claim

         The plaintiffs assert that Massachusetts's WTA system for allocating electors violates the “one person, one vote” principle. The defendants argue that this claim is foreclosed by binding Supreme Court precedent. They also argue that even without this precedent, the WTA system does not violate “one person, one vote” because it does ...

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