(CN) – The Republican Party does not have to face claims that it discriminates against Latinos by holding early presidential primaries in states with disproportionately low numbers of Hispanic voters, a federal judge ruled.
The Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition sued Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in January, alleging that the Grand Old Party’s primary schedule dilutes the vote of Republican Hispanic voters.
The GOP bans primaries before Feb. 1 of a national convention year, and allows four states to hold their primaries first. In three of those states, Republican Hispanics allegedly represent a minuscule percentage of the registered voters: 1.7 percent in Iowa, 1.1 percent in South Carolina and 1.5 percent in New Hampshire.
After Florida set its presidential primary for Jan. 31, the GOP penalized the state for breaking the primary-scheduling rules by taking away half of its delegates to the Republican National Convention.
The coalition asked a Tampa federal judge to stop the committee from enforcing the penalty, arguing that it violated the due-process and equal-protection clauses of the Constitution, and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Priebus, on the other hand, sought to dismiss the claims, arguing that the coalition lacked standing and had failed to state a claim.
Priebus argued that the Republican National Committee, a private entity, could not be considered a state actor, and therefore the coalition’s equal-protection claim was unsupported. He pointed out that Florida had not endorsed or enforced the RNC’s delegate-selection rules, and that the outcome of its primary could not determine the nominee for the general election.
Agreeing that the claims cannot establish Priebus as a state actor, U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew dismissed the suit. She rejected the coalition’s argument that punitive actions toward Florida proved that the state had acted jointly with the RNC.
“It is unclear to this court how plaintiffs can contend that Florida and the RNC operated jointly in this instance when Florida and the RNC are clearly at odds,” Bucklew wrote.
The coalition had failed to establish that the RNC had performed a function “traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the state,” or that a political party can be considered a state or political subdivision under the Voting Rights Act, according to the ruling.