Utah GOP loses another round in court as federal appeals court refuses to rehear case

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican Party lost another round in court after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rehear its lawsuit over how political candidates get on the ballot.

In a ruling handed down Friday afternoon, the Denver-based appeals court rejected an en banc request from the Utah GOP. The 10th Circuit judges previously upheld Senate Bill 54, which allows candidates to either signature gather or go through the caucus-convention system.

SB54 has been a politically contentious issue. It’s blamed for sparking a civil war amongst the state’s most powerful political party, nearly bankrupting the Utah GOP and pitting Republican against Republican. A faction of the Utah GOP has argued that the caucus-convention system should be the exclusive path to get on the ballot, while others insist candidates should be allowed to gather signatures as well.

The philosophical argument centers around whether political moderates can get through a convention system that tends to favor more hardline conservative candidates. It spawned a ballot initiative called “Count My Vote” (that is still fighting to get on the November ballot).

Mitt Romney, Congressman John Curtis, and Governor Gary Herbert have all gathered signatures to get on the ballot as well as gone through the caucus-convention system. They’ve all wound up in primaries.

The Utah GOP sued the state and Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, arguing that SB54 violates its First Amendment right to free association by choosing its candidates.

In an opinion with the ruling, Judge Timothy Tymkovitch suggested the U.S. Supreme Court decide this issue. Dave Bateman, a financial backer of the lawsuit and an outspoken proponent of the caucus-convention system, told FOX 13 that’s what they intend to do.

“While it’s nearly unheard of to be granted an en banc review, we’re disappointed in the 10th Circuit Court’s apathy toward first amendment rights,” he said in a text message. “We’re optimistic and emboldened to bring this case to the Supreme Court who upholds associative rights 80% of the time.”

Utah Republican Party Chairman Rob Anderson said “the decision speaks for itself” and declined to further comment.

In a statement, Lt. Gov. Cox said he hoped the decision would stand and the Utah GOP would work on uniting itself.

“Today’s decision provides a sorely needed resolution to a lengthy and divisive issue. I would like to thank and congratulate the attorney general’s team for their exemplary work on this case, and my staff for diligently implementing the law through times of uncertainty,” he wrote. “Gov. Herbert and I look forward to meeting with Republican leadership in the near future to discuss how to best unite our party.”

Read the 10th Circuit decision here: