On January 13, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Democratic Party sent a letter to Brian Doyle, who wants to run in this year’s Democratic primary for U.S. House, 3rd district. The incumbent in that seat is not running for re-election.
The letter says, “Brian: As I am sure you are aware, the Party must follow the Constitution of the State of South Carolina when accepting a candidate’s filing. It is our understanding that you were convicted in 2003 of a felony and that alone disqualifies you from seeking office in South Carolina. The South Carolina Constitution clearly states, “A person convicted of a felony or an offense against the election laws is not qualified to file or to hold office, unless it has been fifteen years since the completion of the sentence for the crime or unless the person has been pardoned. The South Carolina Democratic Party would be forced under the law to reject your candidate filing this year.”
For over 90 years, state and federal courts have consistently ruled states cannot add to the qualifications listed in the U.S. Constitution to serve in Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed this understanding in 1995, when it ruled in U.S. Term Limits v Thornton that states may not keep candidates for Congress off any ballot, just because the person has already served three terms in Congress.
On January 27, Doyle sued the South Carolina Democratic Party over its threat to keep him off its primary ballot, and also over its failure so far to include him on the party’s web page list of candidates this year. Here is a link to the party’s web page. The case is Doyle v South Carolina Democratic Party, 3:10cv-203, filed in U.S. District Court.
If political parties had the power to add qualifications to run in their own primaries for Congress, then, in theory, the Republican Party (which once endorsed term limits for Congress) could provide by party rules that no long-serving member of Congress would be permitted to run in a Republican primary for re-election.