Seventh Circuit Poised to Knock Down Hurdle for Illinois Third Parties

CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit lent a sympathetic ear Friday to the Libertarian Party’s challenge to an Illinois requirement that third parties run a full slate of candidates to get on the ballot.

The Illinois Election Code requires new political parties that wish to enter candidates for office in a political subdivision, such as a county or the state, to submit a petition “signed by qualified voters equaling in number not less than 5 percent of the number of voters who voted at the next preceding regular election,” for that subdivision.

In addition, new parties must submit a complete list 134 days before the election, naming a full slate of candidates for offices in the state or county in which it wishes to run.

Established political parties are not subject to either rule.

The Libertarian Party challenged the requirement, arguing that it burdens third parties by forcing them to find candidates for offices that might not be important to them, or for which the party might not have a qualified candidate.

The law is especially “burdensome at the local level because of the variety of offices on the ballot,” the party’s attorney David Schoen told the Seventh Circuit Friday morning.

A federal judge ruled the full slate requirement unconstitutional in 2012, and the state appealed.

Richard Huszagh, an attorney for the state of Illinois, told the Chicago-based appeals court that the law might not be perfect, but it is “legitimate.”

He emphasized that the state has an interest in preventing “sham parties” from getting listed on the ballot, and that Libertarian candidates can run as independents without satisfying the full slate requirement.

“It is not a severe burden not to have the party name next to the candidate’s name” on the ballot, Huszagh told the panel.

U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Sykes was not convinced. “It is clearly a political association burden” not to be able to run candidates identified by their political party, she said.

Schoen told the panel there is “no set of circumstances under which this is a valid constitutional burden on free association.” He said no other state in the nation imposes similar requirements on third parties.

U.S. Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook wondered, half jokingly, if a third party could just pull some names out of the phone book to fill out the full slate requirement, but then concentrate its time and money on its serious candidates.

But Schoen called this idea a “preposterous formula” that “encourages sham candidates” – precisely the opposite of what the state claims is the law’s purpose.

U.S. Circuit Judge Michael Kanne rounded out the three-member panel. It is unclear when the Seventh Circuit will issue a decision in the case.