Today, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction in the case of California Justice Committee v. Bowen, prohibiting the California secretary of state from enforcing a January deadline by which new political parties must meet onerous qualification requirements in order to place their candidates on California’s November presidential ballot.
Earlier this month, the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) filed suit against California Secretary of State Debra Bowen challenging California’s restrictions on ballot access for minor political parties. Political groups cannot place their candidates on California’s ballot unless they are formally recognized by the state as political parties. Yet the deadline for qualifying as a recognized political party is more than 10 months before the November presidential election. Since California first enacted the early party-qualification deadline in 1953, only seven new political parties have met the qualification standards, and only one new party has done so since 1995.
In his order, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson found that the secretary of state has failed to explain why it is reasonable for that deadline to be 135 days prior to the primary election when a party seeks only to place its candidates for president and vice president on the November general election ballot and has not offered a sufficient or credible justification for such an early deadline, let alone evidence that the timing requirement is necessary in light of the severe restriction it places on Plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights. “Today’s decision recognizes that a state cannot freeze the political playing field ten months before an election,” said David Sapp, staff attorney for the ACLU/SC. “This is an important victory vindicating the foundational principle of our democracy that individuals can join together and compete on equal terms in the political arena.”
Under the ruling, the secretary of state cannot enforce the January deadline, so the secretary of state or the legislature will therefore have to set a new deadline closer to the November general election. 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.
View the order.