The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has affirmed an order from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denying third-party presidential candidates automatic placement on the November 2020 Pennsylvania ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Libertarian, Constitution, and Green Parties of Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit against state officials arguing that Pennsylvania’s signature collection requirements for third-party candidates were unconstitutional because of Governor Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency stay-at-home orders. The state requires presidential “political body” (non-major party/third-party) candidates to collect five-thousand in-person signatures before to August 3, 2020 in order to get a spot on the presidential ballot.
In their per curiam opinion issued Tuesday, Circuit Judges Ambro, Shwartz, and Bibas stated that the District Court had properly followed the Supreme Court’s balancing test from Anderson v. Celebrezze and Burdick v. Takushi. The Third Circuit agreed with the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s conclusion that the signature requirement in combination with the Governor’s COVID-19 orders “imposed only a moderate burden” on the third-party candidates. The appellate court was careful to note that in-person signature collecting had already been reduced by 90% back in 2018. They also accepted the district court’s determination that the August 3 deadline did not create a “‘severe burden’ requiring strict scrutiny.”
The signature requirement also passed intermediate scrutiny, according to the Third Circuit:
We agree that the law survives intermediate scrutiny because it serves the Commonwealth’s legitimate and sufficiently important interesting “avoiding ballot clustering, ensuring viable candidates, and the orderly and efficient administration of elections.”
The court also denied as moot the Plaintiffs’ motion for injunctive relief pending appeal.