Justices Agree States May Limit Candidates to One Party Line
By Joan Biskupic
In a setback for lesser-known political parties, the Supreme Court yesterday upheld state laws that stop a candidate from being the nominee of more than one party.
The ruling upholds the laws in a majority of states that ban political candidates from appearing more than once on a ballot. A lower court, in a ruling covering seven midwestern states, found that a Minnesota prohibition of that practice violated political parties' First Amendment rights of free speech and association.
By a 6 to 3 vote, the justices reversed that ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court said that while Minnesota's "fusion" ban does infringe some First Amendment rights, it is justified by overriding state interests in ballot integrity and political stability.
Minnesota had argued that its law helps prevent voter confusion. The state said allowing the practice would enable minor parties to gain success simply by latching on to an established party.
"States certainly have an interest in protecting the integrity, fairness, and efficiency of their ballots and election processes as means for electing public officials," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote.
He said Minnesota has not directly stopped minor political parties, including a chapter of the national New Party that brought the suit, from developing. "The New Party remains free to endorse whom it likes, to ally itself with others, to nominate candidates for office, and to spread its message to all who will listen."
The case began when the Twin Cities Area New Party tried to list on the ballot a candidate who had been nominated by a major party, and the state refused to identify him as representing the New Party as well.
The New Party argued that bans such as Minnesota's keep third parties on the margins by preventing them from lending their party name to another nominee or offering the party's choice of candidates.
Rehnquist rejected the party's argument that it wanted to send a message to candidates and voters about its support: "Ballots serve primarily to elect candidates, not as fora for political expression."
Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party. They said the law places "an intolerable burden" on political expression.
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