ACLU to U.S. Supreme Court: Don’t overturn decision on voter petitions

constitutionThe ACLU of Virginia yesterday submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging the Court to deny the State Board of Elections’ request for review of the Fourth Circuit’s decision holding that Virginia may not prohibit nonresidents from circulating ballot petitions for third-party presidential candidates.  By denying the request, the Court would let stand the Fourth Circuit decision that found the law to be in violation of the First Amendment.

“The Fourth Circuit correctly found that everyone, regardless of residence, has a First Amendment right to petition for a presidential candidate in Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg.  “Every court of appeals to look at this issue in the last decade has agreed with the Fourth Circuit that this kind of statute is unconstitutional.  In light of this consensus, there is no reason for the Supreme Court to take this case, and we’re disappointed that instead of working with the legislature to bring the law into compliance with the Constitution, the State Board of Elections is wasting the Commonwealth’s limited resources on this lawsuit.”

The ACLU represents the Libertarian Party of Virginia and Darryl Bonner, a non-Virginia resident who often circulates petitions on behalf of Libertarian Party candidates in other states.

Virginia Code Section 24.2-543 requires “non-party” presidential candidates who wish to be listed on a general election ballot to gather at least 200 signatures from each congressional district and a total of 5,000 from the entire state.  Individuals are considered to be non-party candidates if they or the organization they represent received less than 10 percent of the total vote cast in either of the two preceding statewide elections.  The signatures must be witnessed by state residents.

A similar issue arose during the 2012 Republican primaries when presidential hopeful Rick Perry challenged a related Virginia law imposing state residency requirements on individuals who circulate petitions for presidential primary candidates.  In that case, a federal judge said that Perry had filed his lawsuit too late to expect a court remedy, but also opined that the residency restrictions were likely unconstitutional.

“As the Fourth Circuit recognized, circulating petitions is core political speech, which the state may not restrict without a compelling reason.  In this case, the Commonwealth failed to show any need to deny this right to nonresidents,” said Glenberg.

The ACLU of Virginia’s brief can be found here.

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