Jacek Stramski |
The City of Miami Gardens will have to hold a second election for mayor after the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the election held on August 30, 2016. In Wright v. City of Miami Beach (SC16-1518), the Court ruled that section 99.061(7)(a)1., Florida Statutes, impermissibly restricted the constitutional right of James Barry Wright to run for elected office by disqualifying him based on a timely payment of a qualifying fee that was not processed.
The qualify for the election, the law required Wright to submit payment of a qualifying fee during the qualifying period, which ran from May 26 through June 2. On June 1, Wright timely submitted payment of the fee by a temporary check drawn on a recently opened campaign account. Though the check contained identifying information, the city’s bank returned the check after two weeks because it could not locate the account on which it was drawn. On June 20, Wright was notified that the payment did not go through. Although he sent in new payment by cashier’s check, Wright was told that he was disqualified based on section 99.061(7)(a)1., Florida Statutes, which provides in pertinent part that “[i]f a candidate’s check is returned by the bank for any reason, the filing officer shall immediately notify the candidate and the candidate shall have until the end of qualifying to pay the fee with a cashier’s check purchased from funds of the campaign account. Failure to pay the fee as provided in this subparagraph shall disqualify the candidate.”
Wright sued city and county officials for declaratory and injunctive relief, asking that he be placed on the ballot. The trial and district courts both held that the plain language of the statute provided for Wright’s disqualification.
The Supreme Court rejected Wright’s arguments that the statute was vague, that its literal application yielded an absurd result, and that it otherwise did not apply in his situation. The Court held that the statute clearly applied to Wright. However, the Court ultimately ruled in Wright’s favor. The Court held that though the statute was unambiguous and that it required on its face that Wright be disqualified, the law was an unconstitutional restriction on his right to run for office. The qualifying fee requirement was an impermissible unreasonable and unnecessary restriction on the right to run in light of the short qualifying period and the possibility of potential candidates, such as Wright, being prevented from qualifying through no fault of their own. The Court concluded that the only way to remedy the matter was to allow Wright to qualify and to order a new election.
The briefs in the case are available here.