As promised, the Utah Republican party is taking their fight against the state’s dual-track nomination system to the Supreme Court.
The party filed their petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, seeking to overturn SB54, which allows candidates to either use the traditional convention route to get on the primary ballot, gather signatures to secure a spot or both.
In March, the 10th Circuit ruled against the Utah GOP in their quest to overturn SB54, the compromise passed by lawmakers in 2014 to head off a likely citizen initiative by Count My Vote. In June, the 10th Circut denied the Utah GOP’s request for an en banc hearing by the court, prompting the filing for relief at the Supreme Court.
In Tuesday’s filing, the Utah GOP argues the state legislature violated the party’s First Amendment rights by imposing the dual track system on their nomination process. They ask the Justices to consider whether the First Amendment allows a government to “use a state-preferred process for selecting a party’s standard bearers.”
The state has argued that the ballot does not belong to political parties. Rather, it belongs to the people, so the state has the right to control access.
In March, the 10th Circut ruled 2-1 against the GOP’s lawsuit. In a blistering majority decision, the court said SB54 did not infringe on the party’s First Amendment right of association.
"States must have flexibility to enact reasonable, common-sense regulations designed to provide order and legitimacy to the electoral process," the decision read. "Not only does this balance not offend our Constitution, it is at its very essence."
The majority opinion also said the traditional convention system, which the Utah GOP is seeking to return to as the only path for candidates, was “overly restrictive and potentially unrepresentative.”
However, the GOP was encouraged by the dissenting opinion from the 10th Circut, which said the state did not provide a compelling interest for making a change to the nominating process.
"Senate Bill 54 attempts to change the substance of the Utah Republican Party under the guise of the state's authority to regulate electoral procedure. Perhaps it would be wise for the Utah Republican Party to change its nominating procedures. But such change is not for legislatures to impose."
Utah Republicans were further encouraged by the dissent in the June decision to not allow an en banc hearing for their appeal, which argued the time is ripe for the Supreme Court to look at the issue because it goes to the heart of what a political party is.
According to the Supreme Court website, the court receives approximately 7,000-8,000 petitions for a writ of certiorari each year. The Justices usually grant oral arguments in about 80 of those cases.
Now that the Utah GOP has filed their petition, the state has 30 days to file a response. Once a response is received, or that 30-day period lapses, the Justices will consider the petition during one of their private Friday conferences. It usually takes, on average, about 6 weeks for the Justices to either grant or deny a petition once it is received.
The legal fight against SB54 is being bankrolled by Entrata CEO Dave Bateman, who stepped in to pay off the $400,000 in debt the party racked up in their battle to overturn the law. He also agreed to fund the suit going forward, including taking the issue to the Supreme Court.