Bob Bernick’s notebook: A court gives the Utah GOP back to Republicans

And with one clear slap, the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals deals a deathblow to GOP opponents of SB54.

Or does it?

Already the advocates of having only the caucus/convention process for the Utah Republican Party are talking about grasping on to their anti-SB54 fight until it is pried from their cold, dead hands.

But their reaction – combined with the well-reasoned opinion of the majority in the 2-1 decision released this week from the appeals court – shows just how wrong the anti-SB54 zealots are.

Brandon Beckham, director of Keep My Voice, the citizen initiative petition aimed at killing SB54 and allowing only the caucus/convention route for GOP candidates, said in an email posting to supporters:

“On another note, we are sad we didn’t obtain a complete victory today from the 10th circuit, but we’re very encouraged by the comments from the Chief Justice regarding the constitutionality of Senate Bill 54 (the law to dismantle the neighborhood caucuses), which opens the door for further resolution.”

“Didn’t obtain a complete victory?!”

You lost.

You were defeated.

His reaction – now typical of the anti-SB54 hardliners who won’t take “no” for an answer from any court – is like the soccer coach whose team lost 2-1 – and in the post-game interview tells reporters that he’s appealing the decision to the league office, because his team really played better than the opposition and deserved two more goals and a win.

These anti-SB54 diehards on the GOP State Central Committee do not see reality.

Will not recognize they are defeated.

I’ve long been an advocate of Count My Vote, the now-renewed citizen petition aimed at enshrining into state law the dual pathway by candidates to a party primary.

I am because I want MORE Republicans and Democrats deciding their party nominee, not fewer – like 4,000 or 5,000 state delegates.

The two appeals court judges who wrote the majority opinion squarely hit the legal nail on the head in several areas.

I quote some of the majority opinion below.

And in the process, they give a warning to the anti-SB54 “party bosses” or “leadership.”

You can decide on your own party membership. But if you kick someone out of the party for taking the signature-gathering route, specifically upheld in their opinion, then you risk breaking Utah state law – with subsequent punishment coming.

And, by the way, it is perfectly legal for the state to pick a candidate nomination process that gives party rank-and-file voters the power to pick a candidate NOT wanted by the “party bosses” or “leadership,” i.e. the delegates.

Some quotes from the majority decision:

“But when the party’s actions turn outwards to the actual nomination and election of an individual who will swear an oath not to protect the Party, but instead the Constitution, and when the individual ultimately elected has the responsibility to represent all the residents in his or her district, the state acquires a manifest interest in that activity, and the party’s interest in such activity must share the stage with the state’s manifest interest.

“But the URP (Utah Republican Party) is not a parish or a club, but rather a political association whose activities run the gamut from purely internal—such as voting on the party platform—to a hybrid internal-external—such as nominating candidates who will appear on the general election ballot in the hopes of being elected to represent not the URP, but the broader citizenry of Utah.

“To be sure, we have . . . permitted States to set their faces against ‘party bosses’ by requiring party-candidate selection through processes more favorable to insurgents, such as primaries.”  — U.S. Supreme Court.

“The unambiguous import of Lopez Torres (a previous decision) is that in order to “set their faces against ‘party bosses’” states may require primary elections.

“This language establishes that the associational rights of a political party expand beyond the party leadership, and would be toothless if party bosses could dictate how candidates can qualify for the primary ballot, perhaps, for example, by requiring candidates to win the support of “party bosses” in order to qualify for the primary ballot, leading to primary “elections” with a single candidate on the ballot.

“SB54 does not regulate the party’s internal process; in fact, its grand compromise was to maintain the URP’s traditional caucus system as a path onto the primary ballot.

“Finally, nothing in SB54 prevents the URP from endorsing the candidate of its choice and using traditional advertising channels to communicate that endorsement to the state’s voters.

SB54’s goal was to ensure only that the will of all the URP was not being truncated by an overly restrictive and potentially unrepresentative nominating process (the caucus/convention).

“But if the URP wants to open its doors to roughly 600,000 people (registered Republicans) across the state of Utah, the associational rights of the party are not severely burdened when the will of those voters might reflect a different choice than would be made by the party leadership. To say otherwise is to erroneously conclude that the rights and interests of the association extend only to the rights and interests of the party leadership.

“For these reasons, we conclude that SB54 does not impose a severe burden on the URP by potentially allowing the nomination of a candidate with whom the URP leadership disagrees.”

The prime example of this, of course, was the 2017 special U.S. House election, where the “party bosses” (the delegates) rejected John Curtis in convention and picked Chris Herrod, only to see 3rd District voters pick Curtis easily over Herrod as the party nominee.

Rank-and-file GOP voters are smart enough to pick their own nominees in a closed primary.

They don’t need the “party bosses” to do it for them.