10th U.S. Circuit Court denies Utah GOP request to rehear case

In this 2017 file photo, a sign points voters to the Washington City Office, Washington City, Aug. 11, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A federal appeals court last week dealt another loss to Utah Republicans challenging the so-called “Count My Vote” law that established the state’s dual path to the primary ballot.

St. George residents vote early in the 2016 general election, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2016 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied the GOP’s request for a rehearing by the full court. In March, a three-judge panel of the court upheld the law.

Read more: Appeals court affirms SB 54 elections law, rules against Utah GOP

The “Utah Elections Amendments Act of 2014,” commonly known as SB54, allows candidates to gather signatures or go through the caucus-convention system to get on a political party’s primary ballot. A candidate can also choose to take both routes simultaneously. Among those who have taken both paths are Mitt Romney and Gov. Gary Herbert.

Although the 10th Circuit denied the hearing request, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote in a concurring opinion that “the issues raised here deserve the Supreme Court’s attention.”

A central argument made by supporters of the caucus-convention system – who believe it should be the exclusive system used for reaching the primary ballot – is that the law violates a political party’s constitutional rights under the First Amendment. Supporters argue those rights were violated by the state when the Legislature passed the law regulating how political parties choose their candidates.

Just how much a state government can regulate the primary election process is a matter the Supreme Court should review, Tymkovich wrote.

In important ways, the party system is the weakest it has ever been – a sobering reality given parties’ importance to our republic’s stability. And given new evidence of the substantial associational burdens, even distortions, caused by forcibly expanding a party’s nomination process, a closer look seems in order. The time appears ripe for the court to reconsider (or rather, as I see it, consider for the first time) the scope of government regulation of political party primaries and the attendant harms to associational rights and substantive ends.

The fight against SB54 has triggered division within the Utah GOP while also nearly bankrupting the party. Some members have wanted to drop the lawsuit while others have pushed for it to go all the way to the Supreme Court if need be.

Read more: Utah GOP will continue legal challenge to Count My Vote initiative

Republican and caucus-convention supporter Dave Bateman helped cover the estimated $360,000 debt the party had incurred through November during its long legal battle against the law. He also agreed to cover future costs of the lawsuit.

“We’re optimistic and emboldened to bring this case to the Supreme Court who upholds associative rights 80% of the time,” Bateman said in a text message to Fox 13 News.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, whose office oversees state elections, said in a statement that the court’s decision has given the Utah GOP a chance to move on.

Today’s decision provides a sorely needed resolution to a lengthy and divisive issue. I would like to thank and congratulate the attorney general’s team for their exemplary work on this case, and my staff for diligently implementing the law through times of uncertainty. Gov. Herbert and I look forward to meeting with Republican leadership in the near future to discuss how to best unite our party.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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