Case Caption: Ivy Moses et al. v. Caroline Fawkes, as the Supervisor of Elections, et al.Case Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2016-0038Date: 02/24/2017Author: Hodge, Rhys S. Citation: Summary:

In an appeal by members of the St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix Boards of Elections from denial of their motion for a preliminary injunction to bar the Supervisor of Elections from enforcing the resign-to-run provisions of 18 V.I.C. § 2, the judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed. Although it characterized the decision as denying the motion for a preliminary injunction-and it considered only one of the four factors that apply in deciding whether to grant such relief, failing to ascertain the seriousness of the legal questions presented or to determine whether the members possessed a chance of prevailing-in this case the hearing on the preliminary injunction application was consolidated with a hearing on the merits, and thus the Superior Court effectively issued a final decision rejecting the constitutional claims and denying the request for a permanent injunction. Therefore this appeal is heard pursuant to 4 V.I.C. § 33(b)(1) and § 32(a). While the Superior Court erred in its analysis of the Fourteenth Amendment claim, the error is ultimately harmless because Board members running for re-election are not similarly situated to ordinary government employees seeking election to a different office, and a rational basis exists for treating them differently. The Legislature could rationally determine that the resign-to-run provision is necessary to provide for a functioning and conflict-free Board to administer gubernatorial and senatorial elections-the offices that exercise the executive and legislative powers of the Virgin Islands-but that extending it to Board members seeking re-election would do more harm than good. Further, the Superior Court committed no error when it rejected the members' First Amendment challenge to the resign-to-run statute, given that binding precedent from the Supreme Court of the United States has found the burden of such provisions on First Amendment rights to be insignificant, since they in no way restrict the ability to participate in political campaigns of third parties, limit neither political contributions nor expenditures, do not preclude holding office in a political party, permit the officeholders to distribute campaign literature and make speeches on behalf of a candidate, and simply require officeholders to choose between awaiting the conclusion of their term or resigning. Thus the First Amendment is not violated by a resign-to-run statute that does nothing more than to require current officeholders to choose between running for a different office and serving out their current term. Addressing another issue that is important and likely to recur, it is held that the Department of Justice was authorized to represent the Supervisor of Elections in this matter pursuant to 3 V.I.C. § 114(a). Accordingly, the Superior Court's June 24, 2016 judgment is affirmed and the matter is remanded for the limited purpose of entering a final order of dismissal.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion