Utah GOP seeks ‘unprecedented outcome’ in reviving lawsuit over signature gathering, state says

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican Party seeks an “unprecedented outcome” in asking a federal appeals court to revive a long-running lawsuit against a law that lets political candidates gather signatures to get on the ballot.

That’s the view of the state in a new filing asking Denver’s 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reject a request by the Utah GOP for an “en banc rehearing,” which means the entire judicial panel would reconsider the lawsuit.

“URP wants this Court to be the first in 229 years of American jurisprudence to hold that the First Amendment prohibits States from (1) requiring political parties to nominate their general-election candidates by primary election, and (2) allowing candidates to qualify for the primary ballot by nomination petition. Nothing justifies that unprecedented request,” Utah Solicitor General Tyler Green wrote.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office is representing Lt. Governor Spencer Cox and other state officials in the long-running lawsuit over Senate Bill 54 that has sparked a civil war within the Utah GOP. It’s pitted Republicans against Republicans, nearly bankrupted the party and reincarnated a citizen’s ballot initiative.

Count My Vote, which seeks to let political candidates gather signatures to get on the ballot, struck a deal with the Utah State Legislature in 2014 to carve a dual path. Under Senate Bill 54, candidates can signature-gather, or go through the caucus/convention system. The Utah GOP sued, arguing it trampled on their First Amendment right to free association. The courts have ruled against the party.

The Utah GOP has asked the 10th Circuit Court to reconsider its latest ruling against the party. The Court asked the state to also weigh in. Green contended the legislature crafted a compromise law to “save” the caucus/convention system and not destroy it as some believe. (Count My Vote is likely to be on the November ballot this year.)

“In short, URP wants this Court to become the first American court to hold that the First Amendment lets parties veto both nominations by mandatory primary elections and nomination petitions. That request arises in an evidentiary vacuum and would, in an election year, upend the existing nomination processes in every Tenth Circuit State,” Green wrote.

Read the filing by the state of Utah here: