U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Utah GOP’s lawsuit over political candidates who gather signatures

Posted at 7:47 AM, Mar 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-04 11:57:25-05

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal by the Utah Republican Party, challenging a law that lets political candidates gather signatures to get on the ballot.

In an order handed down on Monday, the nation’s top court refused to hear the Utah GOP’s lawsuit against Lt. Governor Spencer Cox. The ruling means a lower court’s decision stands and political candidates can gather signatures to get on the ballot, in addition or instead of going through the caucus/convention system that the party preferred.

It also ends a long-running “civil war” within the party that has pitted Republican against Republican and left the party deep in debt.

Lt. Governor Cox did not immediately have an official comment, but reacted to the news on Twitter:

It began with a ballot initiative called “Count My Vote” that sought to do away with the caucus/convention system, allowing candidates to gather signatures to get on the ballot before voters. Then, the Utah State Legislature struck a deal with with them and passed Senate Bill 54, that carved a “dual path system.” Candidates could collect signatures, go through the party system, or both.

The Utah GOP sued after SB54 passed in 2014. The state’s dominant political party sued, arguing it violated their First Amendment free association rights to pick candidates how they preferred.

U.S. Senators Mitt Romney, Mike Lee, Governor Gary Herbert, Congressman John Curtis and others have used signature gathering to get on the ballot, sometimes in cases when the Utah GOP’s state convention advanced more hardline conservative candidates.

In an email to Republican party members on Monday and shared with FOX 13, Utah GOP Chairman Rob Anderson called for peace.

“Over four years ago, after the passage of a controversial election law, the Utah Republican Party was plunged into its own type of civil war. A lawsuit was filed in an effort to challenge the constitutionality of this new election law. This legal challenge has been at the forefront of internal Party struggles since that time. These struggles have distracted us from accomplishing the ultimate purpose of our Party. Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) denied the Party’s final effort to legally challenge the constitutionality of the SB54 election law which resulted in a dual path to the ballot,” he wrote.

“The legal challenge is over. We are grateful to those who contributed immense time, effort and expense to allow the chance for our voice to be heard at the highest court in the land. We accept and understand that this decision is final.

“Today, let us mend fences. Let us no longer pit ourselves against one another. Instead, let us strengthen our party from within. The UTGOP Constitution states the purpose of the Utah Republican Party is to “nominate and support the election of Republican candidates in partisan races for public office, promote the principles set forth in the State Party Platform and perform Party functions set forth in the election laws of the State of Utah and the Constitution and Bylaws of the Party.”

Keep My Voice, the group created to push the legal challenges to eliminate signature-gathering, reacted to the decision by suggesting it won’t stop pushing for an exclusively caucus/convention system.

“We sincerely thank the Utah Republican Party for seeing this case to the end, the various legal counselors throughout the judicial process, and to everyone who donated to make this effort a reality. Lastly, we recognize the countless unpaid volunteer delegates who make Utah’s caucus-convention system a success,” Phill Wright, Executive Director of Keep My Voice, said in a statement. “Despite the current legal setback, Keep My Voice will continue to advocate for giving every individual and neighborhood a representative voice, removing money as the dominant factor in elections and holding elected officials accountable. This has been a long fight for liberty, and we will continue because freedom is always worth fighting for.”

The Utah Democratic Party, which was tethered to this lawsuit (and tried to have the Utah GOP stripped of its party status) ripped into its counterparts.

“Having lost 6 times before 4 different courts over the course of 3 years, the Utah Republican Party needs to finally start following the law,” Utah Democratic Party Executive Director Alex Cragun wrote in a text message. “The Utah Democratic Party is proud that the U.S. Supreme Court found our briefing persuasive, and we are proud to have defended SB54 against the URP’s baseless attacks. They should comply with the law that the U.S. District Court, the Utah Supreme Court, the Tenth Circuit, and now U.S. Supreme Court all agree are constitutional.”

Count My Vote organizers called for an end to the fighting with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision:

“The dual path to the primary election ballot has proven to be effective at increasing participation in Utah elections and it’s highly popular with Utah voters,” said Rich McKeown in a statement. “There has never been any question about its constitutionality, and we are pleased the Courts have repeatedly confirmed that.”