Partial Win for Closed Primary

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that:

A federal judge ruled yesterday that an open primary, in which any registered voter can participate, is not required.

The suit was brought on behalf of Chesterfield state Senator Steve Martin, who plans to opt for a primary in 2007 if challenged for the nomination.

The opinion says that in situations where an incumbent is choosing the method of nomination, and chooses a primary, that the State GOP may declare the primary to be closed to democrats and Independents. The opinion said that if a primary is held for an open seat or position the State GOP could not make it a closed primary.

Lead attorney state Senator Ken Cuccinelli declared it a 2/3 win for a closed primary, and said there would be an appeal of the “open seat” portion of the opinion.

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One thought on “Partial Win for Closed Primary

  1. There is no constitutional right to a primary– or to any other method of nomination. The state has the authority to (1) limit each party to one candidate per office on the general election ballot, and (2) mandate the method(s) of nomination.

    But under the First Amendment freedom of association, as validated by the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) in California Democratic Party v. Jones, the state may NOT dictate the NATURE of a primary or any other nomination method.

    (To be sure, the state also has the power NOT to mandate that parties nominate candidates– e.g., Louisiana. Even in such a nonpartisan process, however, the parties still have the right to support candidates.)

    So regardless of how a primary is triggered, it is the party that should determine which voters participate. The party has the right to protect its nominating process from being hijacked by non-members.

    Quoting again from SCOTUS’s ruling in the California case: “A ‘non-member’s desire to participate in the party’s affairs is overborne by the… legitimate right of the party to determine its own membership qualifications.’ … The voter’s desire to participate does not become more weighty simply because the State supports it.”

    As to Mississippi Democratic Party v. Barbour: I’m personally happy with my state’s present open-primary setup, though I’ve known for six years that a state-mandated open primary was very vulnerable to a federal lawsuit. Now that the Virginia and Mississippi suits have been filed, I am a fascinated observer of the judicial process. The first such case that reaches SCOTUS will likely precipitate a landmark ruling from the high court; I naturally would prefer that it be the Mississippi case– which now seems unlikely.

    Unless I’ve overlooked something, Judge Hudson’s ruling is not “a complete remedy” for the 11th Senatorial District GOP Committee. It will indeed allow that committee to keep non-members out of next year’s primary. But what happens when there is a race without an incumbent, and the party holds a primary? The party would then be forced to open its primary to non-members.

    I believe that the Incumbent Protection Act is unconstitutional. Under the Hudson ruling, if the IPA is eliminated through a separate lawsuit, the Republicans would again be forced to allow non-members into ALL of their primaries.

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