People For the American Way

Trump Judge Casts The Deciding Vote In Favor of Florida Governor’s Political Party: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

News and Analysis
Trump Judge Casts The Deciding Vote In Favor of Florida Governor’s Political Party: Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears

Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.

In April 2020, Trump Eleventh Circuit judge Robert Luck cast the deciding vote in Jacobson v. Florida Secretary of State upholding a Florida law that gives the winning governor’s political party priority placement on the ballot for Florida elections.

Florida election law provides that candidates of the party that won the last gubernatorial election will be listed first for each office on the ballot. In 2018, three Democratic voters, including Nancy Carola Jacobson, and several organizations sued the Florida Secretary of State (SOS) to stop enforcement of the law because the law violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Jacobson alleged that allowing candidates of the party whose governor won the last election to appear first on the ballot give “an unfair electoral advantage” to Republicans, who have won Florida gubernatorial elections in recent years.

The district court agreed with the plaintiffs, and permanently stopped the SOS and the 67 county election supervisors from preparing ballots in accordance with the state statute.

The SOS appealed to the Eleventh Circuit and in a 2-1 decision, the majority reversed the district court’s decision and remanded the case for dismissal. The majority held that Jacobson lacked standing to sue because the injury plaintiffs might suffer was not traceable to the Secretary of State or redressable by a judgment against the SOS because the SOS does not enforce that law — county election officials do.

Judge Jill Pryor disagreed. She explained that the majority interpreted Florida’s law as giving the SOS no “role in determining the order in which candidates appear on ballots” and no control over the county election supervisors. She went on to say that to date, no Florida court has interpreted the SOS’s authority as being that limited. The SOS serves as Florida’s chief election officer, and per Florida statute, is tasked to “obtain and maintain uniformity in the interpretation and implementation” of Florida’s Election Code as well as provide written direction to county supervisors on the performance of their official duties. She concluded that the SOS plays a “sufficient role in setting ballot order and exercises adequate control over the county election supervisors to support Jacobson’s standing to sue.