U.S. Tenth Circuit - The FindLaw 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Utah Republican Party Loses Appeal to Control Primary Candidates

The Utah Republican Party has sought to enjoin the enforcement of SB54, a state law passed to provide two methods for a party's candidates to make it onto the primary ballot: via the party's caucus or convention, or via signature gathering.

The Utah Republicans did not want to allow the latter method as its stated preference is to only allow the party's primary candidates to be chosen at their state nominating convention. However, unfortunately for the Utah Republican Party (but maybe fortunately for the party members), the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals explained that the law is not unconstitutional and does not violate the party's First Amendment rights.

Freedom to Associate

While the challengers in this appeal wanted to be able to control their own party's nominations, the court explained that the state legislature passed the law in order to make the election process more democratic. The alternative method for qualifying for the ballot was essentially the legislature seeking to strengthen the integrity of the elections in the state.

As the court noted, the state's interest in regulating elections dominates over the party's interest in preserving their status quo. Curiously, the appellants also contended that the signature gathering aspect of the law was too onerous for their chosen candidates to comply with. The court dismissed that claim as well.

Attorney Harangued

At the end of the court's order, a significant section is devoted to the appellant's attorney. The court not only pointed out that the filings were considerably late and procedurally deficient, it cautioned that should there be any future filings, attorney Mumford may want to consider his "next foray into [that] courthouse with a keen attention to timeliness and detail." And prior to doling out this unsolicited but clearly needed advice, the court made clear that his conduct was sanction-able.

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