In re Nader

Decision Date29 September 2004
Citation858 A.2d 1167,580 Pa. 22
PartiesIn re Nomination Papers of Ralph NADER and Peter Miguel Camejo as Candidates of an Independent Political Body for President and Vice President in the General Election of November 2, 2004. Linda S. Serody, Roderick J. Sweets, Ronald Bergman, Richard Trinclisti, Terry Trinclisti, Bernie Cohen-Scott, Donald G. Brown and Julia A. O'Connell, Objectors. Appeal of Ralph Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo, and their Independent Electors.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Samuel C. Stretton, West Chester, for Peter Miguel Camejo and Ralph Nader.

Christopher K. Walters, Philadelphia, Daniel I. Booker, Pittsburgh, Ira Steven Lefton, Philadelphia, for Linda S. Serody.

Jeremy David Feinstein, Pittsburgh, Milind Madhukar Shah, Philadelphia, for Roderick J. Sweets.

Efrem M. Grail, Pittsburgh, for Ronald Bergman.

Cynthia E. Kernick, Pittsburgh, for Richard Trinclisti.

Brian Anthony Gordon, Gregory M. Harvey, Philadelphia, for Julia A. O'Connell.

Louis Lawrence Boyle, for Bureau of Com'rs, Elections and Legislation.


Per Curiam Order September 20, 2004.



AND NOW, this 20th day of September, 2004, the Order of the Commonwealth Court dated August 30, 2004 is REVERSED and VACATED, and the matter is REMANDED on an expedited basis for hearings on the Petition to Set Aside the Nomination Papers of Ralph Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo.

The Petition for Review of the Denial of a Request for a Stay and Supersedeas is dismissed as moot.

Opinion to follow.


Justice NEWMAN.

In this case, we must determine whether Ralph Nader (Nader) and Peter Miguel Camejo (Camejo) (collectively, the Candidates) will appear on the November 2, 2004 Pennsylvania General Election ballot (the ballot) as Independent Political Body candidates for the respective offices of President and Vice President of the United States. We reject the Commonwealth Court's determination that Section 951(e) of the Election Code, 25 P.S. § 2911(e), as applied to Candidates, disqualifies them from appearing on the ballot. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the Order of the Commonwealth Court, which set aside the Nomination Papers of the Candidates and directed the Secretary of State not to print their names on the ballot for the 2004 Pennsylvania General Election, and remand for an expedited hearing on the validity of the signatures.

The Parties

The case involves the upcoming Presidential election and the right of Ralph Nader and Peter Miguel Camejo to appear as candidates of an Independent Political Body for President and Vice President of the United States on the ballot for the Pennsylvania General Election scheduled for November 2, 2004. Appellees, Linda S. Serody et al. (the Objectors), are registered voters in Pennsylvania who filed objections to the Nomination Papers1 that Nader and Camejo filed on August 2, 2004, with the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania seeking to have their names printed on the November 2, 2004 Pennsylvania General Election ballot as Independent candidates for the respective offices of President and Vice President. The Nomination Papers included 52,398 signatures in support of their candidacy.2

The Objectors' Challenges
A. The Election Code

Objectors contend that, pursuant to Section 951(e) of the Election Code,3 the Candidates are further disqualified from appearing on the Ballot because they were placed on the Michigan general election ballot as the nominated Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates of the Reform Party of Michigan.4

The Registrar of Voters in the County of Sacramento certified that on April 27, 2004, Camejo was registered in Sacramento to County as a member of the Green Party and that he registered with that party on July 29, 2003. The Objectors contend that because of this, his nomination in Pennsylvania violates Section 951.1 of the Election Code, 25 P.S. § 2911.1, which requires that Pennsylvania independent candidates disaffiliate from a political party in Pennsylvania thirty days before the primary election.5 The Objectors contend that Camejo's Affidavit dated July 28, 2004, which claimed that he was not an enrolled member of a political party, constituted a false representation, because Camejo was, at that time, an enrolled and registered member of the Green Party in California.

B. The Challenges to the Signatures

On August 9, 2004, the Objectors filed a Petition that challenged approximately 34,000-35,000 of the signatures, alleging, inter alia, that the Nomination Papers contained numerous defective or illegible signatures, as well as those of unregistered voters and fictitious persons.6 Further, the Objectors contested the supporting Affidavits of those who circulated the Nomination Papers The Nomination Papers consisted of 1,189 separate documents, accompanied by the Candidates' Affidavits. Petition at ¶ 4. The Objectors received the Candidates' Nomination Papers on August 3, 2004, and by August 9, 2004, had to complete their review of the signatures. They produced several volumes, documenting each signature that they were challenging and explaining the basis for the challenges. Transcript at 105. Objectors worked round-the-clock, cancelled vacations, and brought in volunteers. Id.

Because of the alleged deficiencies, the Objectors argue that the Nomination Papers did not contain the required 25,697 valid signatures, and that the Candidates are not qualified to appear on the ballot.

In addition to the signatures challenged by the Objectors, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, although accepting the Nomination Papers, rejected 4,936 signatures submitted by the Candidates for a variety of reasons.

The Case Management Order

By Order dated August 11, 2004, the Commonwealth Court scheduled a status conference with parties' counsel, which was held on August 19, 2004. The Order noted that:

the purpose of the status conference is to set a date for an evidentiary hearing on the various objections.... At the present time, the court expects to conduct simultaneous hearings on the individual signature challenges in not less than five court rooms, before five different judges, located throughout the state.

Commonwealth Court Order dated August 11, 2004. (emphasis added). At the conference, Candidates objected to the court's Order directing the use of multiple judges sitting at different locations to hear the challenges, and requested additional time to review the signatures. The Objectors stated that they were "ready and available to begin each of the five hearings contemplated by [the August 11, 2004] Order as soon as the court requests" such hearings. Objectors' Joint Case Management and Status Conference Statement dated August 18, 2004. The court stated that it had committed four commissioned judges of the court to work on nothing else (presumably signature review) until the matter is concluded. Transcript at 18. Additionally, the court later indicated that it had five judges, and more if needed, to work on the case. Id. at 31. The court denied Candidates' objections on August 19, 2004, stating that time is of the essence in election matters, and reminding counsel for Candidates that the Rules of Professional Conduct require a lawyer to control his work-load so that each matter may be handled adequately. Counsel for Candidates offered to conduct a "statistical review" of a number of the signatures that were challenged, noting that if patterns of fraud were detected, the Nomination Papers would be withdrawn.7

The Commonwealth Court issued a Per Curiam Case Management Order (Case Management Order) on August 19, 2004, requiring the parties to commence their review of the Philadelphia Registration Commission records and to schedule arrangements with the Voter Registration Administrator for review of the record. In addition, the Commonwealth Court further ordered that after review of those records, the parties were to enter into a stipulation identifying the number of signatures submitted in the Nomination Papers, the number of signatures being challenged, the page and line numbers for the challenges, and the basis for the challenges or objections.8 The Commonwealth Court, in a subsequent Order, explained that "[w]ith the substantial number of signatures at issue here ... a fair and just resolution of the signature challenges would require the commitment of significant resources by the Candidates with the view of entering into stipulations as to many if not most of the challenged signatures." Commonwealth Court Memorandum and Order dated September 9, 2004, at 5. The Case Management Order also provided that the court would commence oral argument before a three-judge panel of the court on August 27, 2004, and that:

[t]he President Judge of the Commonwealth Court shall convene hearings before the Court on Objectors' challenges to the Nomination Papers on Friday, September 3, 2004 and shall continue until said challenges are concluded. Counsel for the parties are to remain available for hearings at all dates and times scheduled by the Court, including evenings and weekends.

Case Management Order dated August 19, 2004, at 2. Based on its previous Order of August 11, 2004, the court intended to conduct simultaneous hearings, using the significant resources it identified and would make available to resolve the signature challenges.

The Signature Review Process

When the Commonwealth Court convened on August 27, 2004 for the oral argument, no stipulations had been implemented. Volunteers for the Candidates had reviewed only 1,371 signatures of the 23,149 signatures that Objectors challenged in Philadelphia, or, roughly six percent (6%). Transcript at 10. Counsel for the Candidates testified that he "can't control the volunteers" and that "we didn't have enough...

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