On January 15, the Utah Republican Party filed a new lawsuit over how the party nominates candidates. The new lawsuit is Utah Republican Party v Herbert, 2:16cv-38, and is assigned to Judge David Nuffer.
The party had filed a lawsuit with the same name on December 1, 2014, in the same court, before the same judge. That lawsuit ended with a decision that the party could not be forced to let independent voters vote in its primaries. And it resulted in an interpretation that when candidates petition to get on the Republican primary ballot, only registered Republicans may sign such petitions.
The party would rather eliminate the ability of candidates to petition onto the party’s primary ballot entirely, and let all nominations be made at party caucuses, with a provision that when someone doesn’t get nominated by the caucus, but gets at least 35% of the caucus vote, then there would be a primary between the two candidates who got at least 35%. That is the method used in Utah for many decades before 2014.
The new lawsuit argues that the party has a right to eliminate the petition method to get on a party primary ballot. But it also argues that if the state is going to have a petition procedure, the number of signatures required in the law is too high. The law says candidates seeking a place on a primary ballot need exactly 28,000 signatures; U.S. House candidates need 7,000; State Senate candidates need 2,000 signatures; State House candidates need 1,000 signatures. The lawsuit points out that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that petition requirements can’t be higher than 5% of the number of eligible signers. Because the first lawsuit resulted in a decision saying only party members can sign these primary petitions, these petition requirements violate U.S. Supreme Court precedent that limits how difficult petitions can be. The party points out that in a few legislative districts, the number of signatures is more than 50% of the number of eligible signers!
This lawsuit will almost certainly be expedited, because some Republican candidates are already petitioning to get on the 2016 primary, and they need to know whether their petitions are wasted effort or not. This lawsuit is the first lawsuit in U.S. history in which a major party has complained about the difficult requirements for candidates to get on their own primary ballots. Minor parties with primaries have had this problem in several states, and have had mixed success in overturning them in court. Massachusetts, Maine, and South Dakota are states in which when minor parties become entitled to their own primary, they have great trouble placing their candidates on the party’s own primary ballot.