Federal judge says state ballot-access law likely unconstitutional
A Richmond federal judge wrote today that the Virginia law requiring that persons who circulate petitions for primary candidates be state residents is likely to be held unconstitutional. The law was challenged by Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry and three other candidates who were excluded from the Virginia Republican primary ballot when they did not collect the requisite number of signatures from voters.
The ACLU of Virginia filed a brief in court in support of Perry, arguing that the state violated his First Amendment rights when it prohibited him using from out-of-state petition circulators to gather the signatures required for ballot access.
Although Judge John A. Gibney, Jr. agreed with the ACLU in principle, he ruled that the Republican candidates had filed their case too close to the Republican primary, scheduled for March 6, to allow the court to craft a remedy that would not substantially disrupt the proceedings.
“For the ACLU, the most important part of the decision is the judge’s recognition that the Virginia law violates the right of free speech,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “This clearly unconstitutional law will now almost certainly be repealed by the General Assembly or struck down in court. Either way, its end is near.”
Gibney wrote: “By imposing a state residency requirement on petition circulators, the Commonwealth reduces the quantity of such speech available to its residents, and directly infringes upon the First Amendment rights of candidates, voters, petition circulators and political parties.”
Perry filed his lawsuit on Dec. 27, 2011, four days after learning that he would be denied a place on the Republican Party primary ballot because he had not received enough petition signatures. Three additional candidates – former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Senator Rick Santorum — quickly joined Perry in the lawsuit.