A federal judge in Arizona has rejected a request for both a restraining order and preliminary injunction against a far-right group that has been accused of gathering near ballot boxes and watching voters, ABC News reports. U.S. District Judge Michail T Liburdi, appointed by former President Trump, claims he cannot issue a preliminary injunction against Clean Elections USA without violating First Amendment protections. This, even as an instance of voter intimidation has been referred to the DOJ from Arizona’s U.S. Attorney’s office.
Nonprofit advocacy groups Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans and Voto Latino filed a lawsuit on Monday against ten individuals, including Clean Elections USA and the group’s founder, Melody Jennings — for carrying out surveillance in a “coordinated vigilante intimidation campaign” at ballot drop box locations, “with the express purpose of deterring voters.” Jennings has also been tied to a shady right-wing group named “Ben Sent Us,” who have been sending creepy emails to Democratic figures in the state.
The lawsuit claimed that the right-winged group violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. If the preliminary injunction were granted, it would have “prohibited defendants from gathering within sight of drop boxes,” from filming, following, or photographing potential voters, and from “training, organizing, or directing others to do those activities.”
In Arizona, you can film and take pictures as long as you are more than 75 feet away. Judge Liburdi wrote in his opinion that he believes granting the injunction and restraining order would directly conflict with the First Amendment right to assemble.
“An individual’s right to vote is fundamental. But so too is an individual’s right to engage in political speech, assemble peacefully, and associate with others,” Liburdi wrote, adding that the defendants were not acting with the intention of discouraging people from voting, but by a desire “to prevent what [the defendants] perceive to be widespread illegal voting and ballot harvesting” so “that persons who attempt to break Arizona’s anti-ballot harvesting law will be exposed.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs appealed the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s unclear if this mess will be cleared up before the midterm elections happen.