Only Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) managed to get on the Virginia Republican presidential primary ballot. In what has the makings of a plea for judicial activism, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is suing to get a court to put him on the ballot. Attorneys for Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich sent a letter seeking to join the suit. Some in the latter group did not submit any signatures to attempt to qualify.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) initially indicated he would intervene to assist the candidates who didn’t make it on to the ballot. By Sunday, he thought the better of it and released this statement:

I obviously feel very strongly that Virginia needs to change its ballot access requirements for our statewide elections. However, after working through different scenarios with Republican and Democratic leaders to attempt to make changes in time for the 2012 Presidential election, my concern grows that we cannot find a way to make such changes fair to the Romney and Paul campaigns that qualified even with Virginia’s burdensome system. A further critical factor that I must consider is that changing the rules midstream is inconsistent with respecting and preserving the rule of law — something I am particularly sensitive to as Virginia’s attorney general.

My intentions have never focused on which candidates would be benefited or harmed, rather I have focused on what is best for Virginia’s citizens, as hundreds of thousands of Virginians who should have been able to make their choices among the full field of presidential primary contenders have had their number of choices reduced significantly.

My primary responsibility is to the people of Virginia, and how best to fulfill that responsibility in these particular circumstances has been a very difficult question for me. I believe consistency on the part of public officials is an important attribute. And I believe that Virginians are best served by an attorney general who consistently supports the rule of law. That leads to my conclusion that while I will vigorously support efforts to reduce the hurdles to ballot access in Virginia for all candidates, I will not support efforts to apply such changes to the 2012 Presidential election.

I do not change position on issues of public policy often or lightly. But when convinced that my position is wrong, I think it necessary to concede as much and adjust accordingly.”

Perhaps the opposition to the lawsuit by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) — Cuccinelli’s likely opponent in 2013 in the gubernatorial race — and Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) factored into Cuccinelli’s retreat.

The governor’s communications director declined to comment beyond a written statement, which chided the candidates who couldn’t get their act together:

Virginia’s laws regarding ballot access are well known and have been in place for many years. All candidates seeking to be listed on the Virginia primary ballot in a statewide race have known the requirements well in advance. Over the years numerous statewide candidates from both parties have had no difficulty gathering the necessary signatures to be listed on the primary ballots; The Governor did it in his statewide campaigns in 2005 and 2009. It is unfortunate that this year, for whatever reasons, some Republican candidates did not even attempt to make the Virginia ballot, while others fell short of submitting the required number of valid signatures. That leaves Virginia voters with only two Republican choices in the March primary, and the Governor certainly would have preferred a broader field. He is always open to reviewing how Virginia’s primary system can be improved to provide voters with more choices. If the General Assembly decides to take action to change Virginia’s ballot access requirements for the March 2012 primary, the Governor would review those changes thoroughly and take action at the appropriate time.

For conservatives who are determined that judges apply the law as written, it’s hard to justify the challengers’ race to the courthouse.

All of this may be moot. The Virginia primary is not until March 6. By then, all or most of the challengers may have dropped from the race. Those remaining should be asked why it was that they couldn’t manage to abide by the law as written and why a federal court judge should be empowered to order Virginia to change its long-standing qualification rules.

A final word about the so-called loyalty oath. Bill Kristol writes: “The Virginia Republican Party is apparently planning to require voters in the March 6 Virginia GOP presidential primary to sign a form that says, “I, the undersigned, pledge that I intend to support the nominee of the Republican Party for president.” This is stupid, counterproductive, and offensive for several reasons so obvious that I won’t even bother to mention them. Bob Marshall, a conservative GOP leader in the house of delegates, has come out against the pledge. Shouldn’t our the Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, stop this idiocy? Shouldn’t Mitt Romney and Ron Paul — the two candidates who are on the Virginia ballot, neither of whom could possibly approve of such a blind loyalty pledge — ask the party to withdraw it?”

Well, the pledge should be rewritten to reflect that this is a party election and that party has the right to expect that those who participate in it and benefit from it will, at the very least, not compete against the party’s nominee. It’s no one’s business if they don’t favor or “support” the nominee; however, actively opposing him or her is another matter.

But that is something for the Virginia legislature to address, along with any modifications of the ballot access rules. For now, however, the challengers have two demerits: one for flubbing their signature-gathering effort and one for throwing judicial restraint overboard. Cuccinelli deserves credit for thinking this through and arriving at a principled conservative position.