ACLU weighs in on GOP primary loyalty oath issue
The ACLU of Virginia on Thursday sent a letter to leaders of the Virginia Republican Party asking them to drop a requirement that voters in the upcoming primary sign a pledge to support the Party’s nominee in this year’s presidential elections. If the requirement is not removed, the ACLU is prepared to file a lawsuit in federal court.
“The ACLU respects the associational rights of political parties to establish their own rules for membership and participation, but this is a primary organized, operated and funded by the government,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “and the government cannot require voters to pledge support for a particular candidate.”
In her letter to the Republican Central Committee of Virginia, ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg writes:
The pledge requirement places severe burdens on Republican voters. Some voters who are bona fide Republicans may yet find it impossible to state, in advance, that they will agree to vote for a nominee other than the candidate they support. Voters who do not feel that they can make this promise in good faith will be deterred from exercising their right to vote in the Republican primary. Additionally, some Republican voters who do intend to support the eventual nominee but value the secret ballot may not wish to proclaim their intentions publicly by signing a loyalty oath.
Glenberg points out that under Virginia law political parties have the option to nominate candidates for office through open primaries or privately run conventions or caucuses. If the Republican Party chose to use the convention or caucus method, the First Amendment would protect its right to require a loyalty oath.
“We’ve already received calls from Republican voters upset about the pledge and volunteering to serve as plaintiffs in a lawsuit,” added Willis. “The best scenario for everyone is for the Republican Party to back away from the loyalty oath requirement in primaries. If Republican Party officials want to use the oath in the future, they can nominate by convention or caucus.”
Glenberg’s letter to the Republican Party Central Committee can be found online at https://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/20120105LoyaltyPledgeLetter.pdf.