Today, the ACLU of Southern California is filing suit against California Secretary of State Debra Bowen challenging California’s restrictions on minor political parties seeking to have their nominees for President and Vice President included on November’s presidential election ballot. The case was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
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 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.
“California’s party-qualification scheme violates the bedrock constitutional principle that like-minded individuals can join together freely and compete on fair and equal terms in the political arena,” said David Sapp, staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “Courts have repeatedly struck down qualification deadlines that fall much closer to the relevant election, so California has no justification for continuing to enforce its January deadline, which is unquestionably among the most burdensome in the nation.”
Early party-qualification deadlines burden voters’ First Amendment rights because it is difficult for political bodies to organize and engage with potential members when elections are so remote; and new parties often gain attention and galvanize support in response to the positions taken or candidates nominated by the established Republican and Democratic Parties, which will not nominate their Presidential candidates or finalize platforms this year until August and September, respectively. Relying on these factors, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1983 that Ohio’s early deadline for independent candidates for President, which fell on March 20 (more than two months later than California’s deadline), violated the First Amendment.
The Justice Party was founded in late 2011, based on the principles of a truly participatory, grassroots structure of government capable of ensuring social, economic, and environmental justice for all. The Constitution Party was founded in 1992 by Howard Phillips as a national political party, and its current platform seeks to limit the federal government to its Constitutional boundaries. Supporters of both parties in California have attempted to educate voters, attract members, and fundraise during the current election cycle. Because of California’s January deadline, however, party supporters were notified in late January that they could not qualify as recognized parties for the November Presidential election, thwarting their efforts to mobilize voters and build their membership.
The suit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting Secretary of State Bowen from enforcing California’s party-qualification scheme for political bodies wishing to qualify as political parties and have their duly nominated candidates for President and Vice President listed on the November Presidential ballot. 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.
Name of case: California Justice Committee, et al. v. Bowen. View the complaint.
**This article was updated to provide more detailed information regarding the plaintiffs in the suit.