885 F.3d 1219 (10th Cir. 2018), 16-4091, Utah Republican Party v. Cox

Docket Nº:16-4091, 16-4098
Citation:885 F.3d 1219
Opinion Judge:EBEL, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:UTAH REPUBLICAN PARTY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Spencer J. COX, in his official capacity as Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Defendant-Appellee. and Utah Democratic Party, Plaintiff Intervenor, Utah Republican Party, Plaintiff, and Utah Democratic Party, Plaintiff Intervenor-Appellant, v. Spencer J. Cox, in his official capacity as Lieutenant ...
Attorney:Marcus Mumford, Mumford Law, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Plaintiff-Appellant. David P. Billings, Fabian VanCott, Salt Lake City, Utah (Peter W. Billings and Charles A. Stormont, Fabian VanCott, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Clemens A. Landau, Zimmerman Jones Booher, Salt Lake City, Utah, with him on th...
Judge Panel:Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, EBEL, and LUCERO, Circuit Judges. TYMKOVICH, C.J., concurring in part and dissenting in part.
Case Date:March 20, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
 
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Page 1219

885 F.3d 1219 (10th Cir. 2018)

UTAH REPUBLICAN PARTY, Plaintiff-Appellant,

and

Utah Democratic Party, Plaintiff Intervenor,

v.

Spencer J. COX, in his official capacity as Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Defendant-Appellee.

Utah Republican Party, Plaintiff,

and

Utah Democratic Party, Plaintiff Intervenor-Appellant,

v.

Spencer J. Cox, in his official capacity as Lieutenant Governor of Utah, Defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 16-4091, 16-4098

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

March 20, 2018

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Utah (D.C. No. 2:16-CV-00038-DN)

Marcus Mumford, Mumford Law, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

David P. Billings, Fabian VanCott, Salt Lake City, Utah (Peter W. Billings and Charles A. Stormont, Fabian VanCott, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Clemens A. Landau, Zimmerman Jones Booher, Salt Lake City, Utah, with him on the briefs), for Plaintiff-Intervenor-Appellant.

Tyler R. Green (Stanford E. Purser with him on the brief), Utah Attorney General’s Office, Salt Lake City, Utah, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before TYMKOVICH, Chief Judge, EBEL, and LUCERO, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

EBEL, Circuit Judge.

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These appeals are only the most recent volley in the spate of litigation that has dogged the Utah Elections Amendments Act of 2014, commonly known as SB54, since it was signed into law in March 2014. At issue here, SB54 reorganized the process for qualifying for a primary ballot in Utah, most importantly by providing an alternative signature-gathering path to the primary election ballot for candidates who are unable or unwilling to gain approval from the central party nominating conventions. Prior to the passage of SB54, the Utah Republican Party (" URP" ) selected its candidates for primary elections exclusively through its state nominating convention, and it would prefer to continue to do so.

In this litigation, the URP sued Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox in his official capacity (" the State" )1, alleging that two aspects of SB54 violate the URP’s freedom of association under the First Amendment, as applied to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment. The two challenged sections (1) require parties to allow candidates to qualify for the primary ballot through either the nominating convention or by gathering signatures, or both (the " Either or Both Provision" ); and (2) require candidates pursuing the primary ballot in State House and State Senate elections through a signature gathering method to collect a set number of signatures (the " Signature Requirement" ). In two separate orders, the United States District Court for the District of Utah balanced the URP’s First Amendment right of association against the State’s interest in managing and regulating elections, and rejected the URP’s claims. Re-conducting that balancing de novo on appeal, we AFFIRM.

I. BACKGROUND

According to its constitution and bylaws, the URP’s process for nominating a candidate to the general election proceeds along a singular path. Candidates present their candidacy to the delegates at the party convention, and the delegates then caucus for nominees for each office. If a single candidate achieves over 60% of the caucus vote, that candidate is certified to the state for placement on the general election ballot, and no primary is held. If no candidate receives 60% of the convention vote, the top two candidates proceed to a state-administered primary election involving only URP members. The winner of that primary election is then certified to the state for placement on the general election ballot.

In 2014, the Utah Legislature— comprised of overwhelming Republican majorities in both the State House and State Senate— passed SB54, which addressed this process. Specifically, SB54 created two types of political parties: Registered Political Parties (" RPPs" ) and Qualified Political Parties (" QPPs" ). Both RPPs and QPPs are eligible to have the name of the party printed next to their candidates on the general election ballot, Utah Code § 20A-6-301(1)(d); the only significant difference being how each is permitted to qualify candidates for its primary election. Members

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of RPPs who wish to participate in a primary election may do so only by gathering the signatures of 2% of the eligible primary voters for the office sought. Utah Code § 20A-9-403(3)(a).

If a party chooses to register as a QPP, however, it may still hold a caucus, and may certify the winners of the caucus to the primary ballot as before. See generally Utah Code § 20A-9-406 et seq. But unlike under the previous system, a party may not restrict access to the primary ballot just to candidates who emerge from the party convention. Under SB54, a candidate who is unwilling or unable to gain placement on the primary ballot through the caucus and convention may still qualify for the primary by gathering a set number of signatures by petition from eligible primary voters.2 Specifically, SB54 provides that in order to qualify as a QPP the party must allow its members " to seek the registered political party’s nomination for any elective office by the member choosing to seek the nomination by either or both of the following methods: (i) seeking the nomination through the registered political party’s convention process ... or (ii) seeking the nomination by collecting signatures[.]" Utah Code § 20A-9-101(12)(c) (" the Either or Both Provision" ) (emphasis added).

It is clear from our review of the record that this " two-path" system was a compromise crafted between Utah legislators hoping to preserve the URP’s caucus system and outside interests pushing a pure primary system. The end result was that a QPP’s primary ballot can now include both candidates who qualified through the caucus and candidates who qualified by gathering signatures. Utah Code § 20A-9-408. As originally passed, it also required parties to allow unaffiliated voters to participate in their primary elections (the " Unaffiliated Voter Provision" ), but that provision was later invalidated and is not before us.

II. PROCEDURE AND JURISDICTION

A. The First Lawsuit

SB54 was signed into law on March 10, 2014, and the URP filed suit later that year seeking an injunction and declaratory judgment that the law was unconstitutional as applied to the URP (the " First Lawsuit" ). The Constitutional Party of Utah (" CPU" ) joined the First Lawsuit, challenging the Signature Requirement in particular.

In the First Lawsuit, the district court denied the URP and the CPU a preliminary injunction, ruling that none of the alleged constitutional burdens were severe save for the Unaffiliated Voter Provision, which was not yet ripe for review. Utah Republican Party v. Herbert, 133 F.Supp.3d 1337 (D. Utah 2015) (" URP I" ). Once the URP notified the state that it intended to become a QPP, that issue ripened and the district court granted the URP summary judgment invalidating the Unaffiliated Voter Provision. Utah Republican Party v. Herbert, 144 F.Supp.3d 1263, 1278-82 (D. Utah 2015) (" URP II

" ).

In doing so, the court held that the Unaffiliated Voter Provision imposed a severe burden on the URP’s associational rights and the State had no compelling interest to justify that burden. Id. The

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practical effect of the First Lawsuit, then, was to invalidate SB54’s Unaffiliated Voter Provision, see id., while upholding the Signature Requirement, the Either or Both Provision, and all other aspects of SB54, see

id. ; URP I, 133 F.Supp.3d 1337. The rulings in the First Lawsuit are not before us on appeal.3

B. The Second Lawsuit

After the First Lawsuit, the URP announced that it would permit nomination only by caucus. The URP’s justification for doing so was that it interpreted the Either or Both Provision as offering the political party (rather than the candidates) the option to allow nomination by either the signature gathering method, or the convention method, or both. The Lieutenant Governor responded that it was the State’s position that under SB54 it is the party member’s choice, not the party’s, whether to pursue the nomination using the signature gathering method, the convention method, or both.

Following this interpretation by the Lieutenant Governor, the URP filed this suit in the United States District Court for the District of Utah seeking declaratory and injunctive relief that SB54 was unconstitutional. The phrasing of its Complaint was similar to the Complaint filed in the First Lawsuit. See Utah Republican Party v. Cox, 177 F.Supp.3d 1343, 1354 (D. Utah 2016) (" URP III

" ) (noting similarities). The party reiterated its argument that...

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