Federal court upholds Utah election law despite Republican legal challenge

Federal court upholds Utah election law despite Republican legal challenge

The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday upheld [text, PDF] a Utah election law allowing candidates to bypass the traditional caucus-convention system and requiring signatures for State House and Senate seats for the primary election ballot.

The Utah Republican Party (UPR) [political website] challenged two provisions of SB54 [text, PDF], saying it violated the party’s right to freedom of association guaranteed under the First Amendment [text]. The court summarized the two provisions as: “(1) requir[ing] parties to allow candidates to qualify for the primary ballot through either the nominating convention or by gathering signatures, or both … and (2) requir[ing] candidates pursuing the primary ballot in State House and State Senate elections through a signature gathering method to collect a set number of signatures …” Before this law, parties elected candidates for the primary ballot strictly through the caucus-convention system. UPR took issue with these provisions, finding the requirements unconstitutionally burdensome.

The court’s 47-page opinion set forth the historical significance in considering these issues with great scrutiny, saying that protecting the political parties’ freedoms to select candidates and pursue political issues how it sees fit is at the heart of the constitution. Ultimately, the court found SB54 to be aligned with those notions:

States must have flexibility to enact reasonable, common-sense regulations designed to provide order and legitimacy to the electoral process. SB54, as modified in the First Lawsuit, strikes an appropriate balance between protecting the interests of the state in managing elections and allowing the URP and all other political associations and individuals across Utah to express their preferences and values in a democratic fashion and to form associations as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Not only does this balance not offend our Constitution, it is at its very essence.

The court’s opinion affirmed the US District Court for the District of Utah’s [official website] earlier decision [case materials].