First rulings issued in Wyoming Gun Owners suit
CASPER — A court issued two rulings in the case of a prominent gun rights group versus some of Wyoming’s top elected officials.
Wyoming Gun Owners Association filed a federal lawsuit earlier this summer against Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan and Attorney General Bridget Hill claiming that Wyoming’s electioneering communications law is “unconstitutionally vague” under the First Amendment.
The lawyers representing Wyoming Gun Owners filed a preliminary injunction earlier this summer in the hope of fast tracking the case, but a U.S. District Judge denied that request. Their request was denied because the judge ruled that they are not currently being limited in their ability to electioneer because it is not currently an election year and it is not currently the time frame where those electioneering laws apply.
“While there is evidence that WyGO would succeed on the merits, there is no evidence of irreparable harm, because WyGO’s political speech is not being actively censored or restricted,” U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl wrote. “Without proving this second element, WyGO does not meet the test necessary to obtain a preliminary injunction.” But the judge offered a sliver of hope for the gun group’s case.
“Based on recent controlling case law, it is unlikely that Wyoming Statute § 22-25-106(h) would survive exacting scrutiny,” Skavdahl added, referencing a Supreme Court decision on donor disclosures from earlier this year.
The defendants, who also include Deputy Secretary of State Karen Wheeler and Election Division Director Kai Schon, also had their request to have the case dismissed denied.
These two rulings mean that the case won’t be fast tracked, but it will also remain open. Major next steps for the two parties are unclear.
“At this point, we’re still evaluating our options,” said Del Kolde, a senior attorney from the Institute on Free Speech who is co-representing Wyoming Gun Owners.
That being said, the plaintiff has started to make some informal moves in the meantime.
Lawyers for Wyoming Gun Owners “Reached out to the [attorney general] and asked them whether the state intends to enforce the part of the law that is unconstitutional,” Kolde said.
Now, the hope and expectation is that the judge will issue a ruling on the case before campaigning goes into full swing leading up to the 2022 primaries, Kolde added.
The gun rights group’s representation is also considering appealing the denial of the preliminary injunction, but they still have a little less than a month to file that.
Although the plaintiffs were unhappy with the decision not to expedite the trial, they remain optimistic about their outcomes.
“It does set us up for success,” Kolde said.
The secretary of state’s office also struck a positive tone despite having their own motion denied.
“As an agency tasked with enforcing statutes, we support raising statutory questions with the Courts,” a spokesperson for the secretary of state, Monique Messe, said in a statement to the Star-Tribune. “This is an excellent example of separation of powers in action.”
The Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce spurred the investigation when it filed a complaint against Wyoming Gun Owners for not being registered with the Wyoming secretary of state’s office, as is required by election code when engaging in electioneering.
Wyoming Gun Owners unsuccessfully urged the state to drop the investigation in late 2020.
The secretary of state ruled that the group had to disclose its donors or pay a $500 fine.
Wyoming Gun Owners has not yet disclosed its donors, nor has it paid the $500 fine, according to the latest court rulings.
The pro-gun group did in fact run aggressive campaign advertisements in addition to sending mailers and emails about specific candidates.
The 2022 elections are already heating up, but that does not mean that Wyoming Gun Owners is missing out on electioneering.
The electioneering law in question only applies to mailers or advertisements made within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election.