The Utah GOP’s ‘civil war’ continues into 2019 with the U.S. Supreme Court being asked to hear appeal

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Republican Party’s ongoing “civil war” is continuing into 2019 with the U.S. Supreme Court being asked to hear an appeal over who can be a candidate for the GOP on the ballot.

On Friday, the U.S. Pastor Council, Christian Life Center and the Layton Christian Academy submitted their own “friend of the court” briefs, asking the nation’s top court to hear the Utah GOP’s appeal of the Senate Bill 54 lawsuit. They argued the Utah GOP’s lawsuit has a “religious freedom” aspect to it.

“The amici are concerned about the effects that the Tenth Circuit’s opinion will have on religious freedom and the rights of private organizations to choose their leaders and representatives,” the filing states.

The Utah Republican Party sued over SB54, which allowed political candidates to gather signatures or go through the caucus/convention system to get on the ballot.  The law was crafted as a compromise after Count My Vote, a ballot initiative, was poised to be on the ballot in 2014.

But the Utah GOP argues the law violates their First Amendment free association right to choose how their candidates are nominated. The issue has divided the state’s dominant party, pitting Republican against Republican and leaving the party deep in debt.

The Utah GOP sued, but has repeatedly lost in the courts. The final stop is the U.S. Supreme Court, which has signaled some interest in the case by telling Lt. Governor Spencer Cox to respond to the party’s appeal.

Also on Friday, a group of current and former state lawmakers including House Speaker Brad Wilson, Reps. Kyle Andersen, Brad Daw, Joel Ferry, Logan Wilde, Lee Perry, former-Senator Stuart Reid, and former-Representatives Justin Fawson, Craig Frank, David Lifferth, Patricia Nix, Michael Noel, Ken Sumsion, Mike Thompson, Matt Throckmorton and Carl Wimmer all signed on to a friend of the court brief in support of the appeal, said Keep My Voice, a group formed to support the caucus/convention system and the appeal.

“The national groundswell of support on behalf of this case speaks for itself: this is not an isolated issue and the implications are clear. We look forward to standing before the Supreme Court justices shortly,” said Phill Wright, the group’s executive director, in a statement announcing the amicus filings.

On Friday, Senator Mike Lee took to Facebook to plead with Governor Gary Herbert to drop the state’s defense of the law. He also questioned if Lt. Governor Cox supported the dual-path system.

The posts triggered a lot of debate among many top conservatives in Utah politics. Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, who originally sponsored SB54, told The Salt Lake Tribune he would run a bill to repeal it in the 2019 Utah legislative session.

Despite his criticism of SB54, Sen. Lee used it to gather signatures to ensure a spot on the ballot in 2016, in addition to going through the caucus-convention system. Governor Gary Herbert, Senator Mitt Romney and Congressman John Curtis all did the same in prior races.