U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Utah GOP challenge to nominating law

Stock image, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court is declining to hear the Utah Republican Party’s challenge to a state law overhauling how political parties nominate candidates.

The Monday decision halts the long court battle over the law allowing candidates to bypass GOP nominating conventions and instead gather signatures to participate in a primary.

Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox released a statement after the high court denied a hearing on the case, which was titled Utah Republican Party v. Cox.

“As Lt. Governor, my job is to defend the law. I do not get to pick and choose which laws to defend. Doing so would be disastrous to the very institutions that we hold dear,” he said in the statement. “I would like to thank Attorney General Sean Reyes and his team, especially Tyler Green, for their great work in defending this lawsuit.

“I am grateful to have finality on this contentious issue.”

Utah’s GOP argued the 2014 law violated their First Amendment right to choose candidates as they saw fit.

But the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, finding it balances the state’s interest in managing elections while allowing political parties and residents a way to express their political choices.

Opponents of the law could now turn to the Legislature. Republican Sen. Dan McCay considered sponsoring a proposal to change the law this year, but decided to wait until the court battle was done.

Supporters of the law say the delegates tend to pick far-right candidates, while supporters of the caucus-convention system say it keeps candidates accountable to the people as that is who the delegates are intended to represent.

The three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit, in its ruling last March, found that the law “strikes an appropriate balance between protecting the interests of the state in managing elections and allowing the URP (Utah Republican Party) and all other political associations and individuals across Utah to express their preferences and values in a democratic fashion and to form associations as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

“Not only does this balance not offend our Constitution, it is at its very essence.”

The ruling was the second time a federal court had shot down the Utah GOP’s lawsuit. The federal district court in Utah delivered upheld the law in April 2016. Around the same time, the Utah Supreme Court also affirmed the new election law.

The law is also known as the Count My Vote compromise law. Count My Vote was originally a ballot initiative that sought to do away with the caucus-convention system in favor of a direct primary.

As the ballot initiative closed in on the 113,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot for that year, Utah legislators compromised with the group behind the initiative to create Senate Bill 54, which preserved the caucus-convention system while also allowing the signature path to the ballot. Gov. Gary Herbert signed it into law in 2014.

St. George News contributed to this report.

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