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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Monday, March 28, 2011

Mississippi-Style Primary System Struck Down

UPDATE - 4/5/2011: The Idaho Senate has passed the bill for voter registration by party. If the new law is enacted, the case against the state-mandated open primary will be moot. Even if a new law is not enacted, intervenors do not automatically have standing to appeal in defense of a state law, when the state itself is not appealing. So it seems likely that Judge Winmill's ruling will stand.

UPDATE - 3/28/2011 - 10:22 PM: I have just learned that an appeal has been filed with the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This appeal is from the groups that the district court had permitted to intervene in the case: (1) a group of Idaho independent voters, (2) the American Independent Movement of Idaho, and (3) the Committee for a Unified Independent Party.

A shorter rendition of this piece appeared as a letter to the editor in the March 28 Clarion-Ledger.


A March 2 court decision in Idaho could have future consequences for 20 states, including Mississippi. Idaho's Republicans have been challenging the state law that prohibits them from enforcing their party rule that says that only Republicans may vote in GOP primaries. This is the first such case in which a party has presented empirical evidence that people not in sympathy with the party have been voting in its primaries. U. S. district judge B. Lynn Winmill, declaring the law unconstitutional, said that it violates the party's First Amendment freedom of association (Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa, 08-cv-165).

The state of Idaho is evidently not going to file an appeal with the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals, as negotiations are underway in the heavily-Republican legislature[1] as to how best to comply with Judge Winmill's ruling. A bill for voter registration by party was introduced in the state Senate on March 28.

A federal judge has ordered that the South Carolina Republicans' similar lawsuit be expedited (Greenville County Republican Party v. State of South Carolina, 6:10-cv-1407-HFF). Also, Tennessee's Republicans are considering taking action to gain the ability to stop non-Republicans from voting in GOP primaries.

These cases are like the lawsuit brought in 2006 by the Mississippi Democratic Party, in which U. S. district judge Allen Pepper held our state primary election law to be unconstitutional. In 2008, however, the 5th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans dismissed that suit on a legal technicality[2] (Mississippi Democratic Party v. Barbour, 07-60667).

If such a case should reach the U. S. Supreme Court, it could trigger a landmark ruling.


[1] Idaho is the most decidedly one-party state in the nation. The entire congressional delegation and all state officials are Republicans, and the GOP has controlled both houses of the legislature continuously since 1960. Currently, the Republicans have a 28-7 edge in the Senate and a 57-13 majority in the House. The joke is that the Democrats hold their caucuses in a broom closet.

[2] The Mississippi Democrats had not adopted a party rule for a closed primary.


Anonymous Scott H said...

Mr. Rankin-

Really interesting blog and analysis--and great principles you espouse. I'm a lawyer at a nonprofit firm in DC looking at an interesting election law issue in MS and would love to ask you some questions to get the lay of the land. If you'd be willing to chat, shoot me a note-- sharrison at ij dot org.



Wed Mar 30, 02:57:00 PM CDT  

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