A federal judge ruled yesterday in the case of California Justice Committee, et al. v. Bowen that California’s January deadline for attaining formal recognition as a political party is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced against political groups seeking recognition as political parties so that their candidates appear on the November presidential ballot. California law prevents political groups from placing their candidates on the ballot unless they are formally recognized as political parties.
The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) filed suit on May 7, 2012 against California Secretary of State Debra Bowen challenging the party-qualification deadline, which fell ten months before the November presidential election, and obtained an order on May 22, 2012 preventing the secretary of state from enforcing the deadline while the case was pending. In yesterday’s ruling, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson found that the January deadline, among the earliest on record, violated the First Amendment rights of voters because it limited their ability to compete on equal terms in the electoral process and that such an early deadline was unnecessary to advance the state’s legitimate interests in assuring an orderly election. Judge Anderson entered an order prohibiting the California secretary of state from enforcing the deadline in future presidential elections.
“California’s early deadline raised unnecessary and unjustified barriers for groups of individuals who sought to promote new ideas through the electoral process,” said David Sapp, staff attorney for the ACLU/SC. “Today’s victory ensures that the unconstitutional restriction will not be enforced and gives new groups a legitimate chance to compete for support in the political arena during the heart of the Presidential election cycle.”
The plaintiffs in the case are the California Justice Committee, a general purpose committee formed to support the efforts of the Justice Party to qualify as a political party in California; the Constitution Party of California; Jeff Norman; Charles Michel Deemer; and John Gabree.