(CN) – Libertarian Party candidates who ran for president and vice president in the 2008 general election were not entitled to have had their names on the Massachusetts ballot, the 1st Circuit ruled.
A federal judge in Massachusetts had ruled that the equal protection clause of the Constitution entitled Bob Barr and Wayne Root to substitute their names in the place of other candidates who obtained enough signatures to get on the Massachusetts ballot.
While the election “is now a fait accompli,” the Boston-based appeals court ruled, the case is not moot. The 1st Circuit overturned the lower court’s treatment of the constitutionally vague laws governing substitutions of candidates on the ballot.
George Phillies and Chris Bennett, who competed unsuccessfully to be the Libertarian candidates for president and vice president, had a place on the ballot in Massachusetts because their names were circulated on nomination papers in Massachusetts.
The state did not recognize the Libertarians as a political party because either their candidates did not capture 3 percent of the vote or they enrolled fewer than 1 percent of the electorate.
Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin told Phillies that if he and Bennett did not win the nomination, the names of the actual nominees could not be substituted.
Barr and Root were endorsed for the ticket at the Libertarian nominating convention, but they did not submit any nomination papers or obtain enough signatures to appear on the ballot.
The federal court granted them an injunction, finding that they would suffer irreparable harm if their names did not replace the names of Phillies and Bennett on the ballot.
Circuit Judge Bruce Selya said the court took up the case, even though the election is over, because there is “sufficient probability that the core events at issue in this case may recur and may again involve the LPM [Libertarian Party of Massachusetts] and/or the Libertarian National Committee.”
The lower court had struck down Section 14 of Massachusetts law, which governs ballot substitutions, as too vague.
“We are not convinced, however, that the lack of definition in the statutory text necessarily invalidates the statute on vagueness grounds,” Selya wrote for the court. “The mere fact that a statute requires interpretation does not necessarily render it void for vagueness.”
Because the hurdles to get on the Massachusetts ballot are nondiscriminatory, the 1st Circuit said there was no equal protection issue at play.
“Massachusetts ballot access provisions … do not specifically differentiate among Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Mugwumps, or candidates affiliated with any other political organization,” according to the ruling. “Equality of opportunity exists here.”
Selya added that Barr and Root had two months between receiving the Libertarian endorsement and the deadline for filing 10,000 signatures necessary to appear on the ballot. Sixty days is “not so short as to impose an unreasonable burden,” he wrote.
“Granting such substitution would effectuate an end run around the signature requirement — a requirement that allows the state to ascertain whether a given candidate has enough support to warrant inclusion on the ballot,” Selya wrote.
“In light of the state’s legitimate interest in ensuring that the candidates who appear on the statewide ballot have demonstrable support among the voting public, the modest burden imposed upon non-party candidates by requiring them to secure signatures, rather than piggy-backing upon signatures collected for other candidates, is not so onerous as to present an equal protection problem vis-à-vis candidates affiliated with recognized political parties.”
The 1st Circuit sent the case back to district court for an interpretation of the substitution rules.