ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – An attorney argued Thursday before the Minnesota Supreme Court that Republican presidential candidate Rocky De La Fuente should be allowed on the ballot for the state’s March primary.
The California perennial candidate and car and banking magnate sued Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon in November to challenge the state’s election code, particularly Simon’s interpretation of a provision that allows political parties to choose which candidates can appear on primary ballots.
De La Fuente argues that Simon’s acceptance of the Minnesota GOP’s list of one primary candidate – President Donald Trump – infringed on Minnesotans’ voting and association rights and on De La Fuente’s own right to run for president under Article II of the U.S. Constitution.
The statute itself is not unconstitutional, De La Fuente’s attorney Erick Kaardal said Thursday, unless the state high court finds that Simon interpreted it correctly by allowing the Republican Party to list just one candidate for the ballots and request that no write-in candidates be counted.
“It’s a travesty,” Kaardal said after the hearing of Simon’s decision to accept the Republican ballot submission. “It’s a misinterpretation of state law, of the Constitution, and of common sense.”
Assistant Attorney General Nathan Hartshorn, representing Simon and the state, told the court that the two parties who opted into Minnesota’s presidential primary process had their own rights to association and that a presidential primary does not directly result in the election of any candidate to a public office.
“The right to vote does not imply the right to demand that the candidate that you want to vote for is in this primary,” Hartshorn said.
The state’s two major third parties, Legal Marijuana Now and the Grassroots Party, do not have a national convention and thus are ineligible to take part in the primary.
Chief Justice Lorie Gildea pondered why Republican Party officials had not made any effort to involve themselves in the proceedings.
“What does it say that [the GOP] isn’t here?” she asked.
Kaardal echoed Gildea later on, pointing out that Simon and the state were carrying water for the Republicans without anyone asking them to.
“I think they got caught with their hands in the unconstitutional cookie jar,” he quipped.
Minnesota’s presidential primary is scheduled for March 3. Kaardal said he hopes the court will arrive at a decision sometime in the next two weeks to ensure De La Fuente’s name appears on the ballot.
This is De La Fuente’s first foray into Minnesota courts, but the last few years have seen him sue a fifth of the states in the nation. He has filed election-related lawsuits in federal courts in nine states and the District of Columbia during and following his 2016 presidential run.
He has pending litigation contesting a nearly identical statute in Georgia and appealed a decision in favor of Arizona to the Ninth Circuit in September. In December, he sued President Trump, his campaign and the Republican parties of 17 states, Minnesota included, for their alleged roles in keeping his name off of primary ballots.
De La Fuente has secured a spot on 13 states’ GOP primary ballots for 2020, Kaardal said Thursday.
He and Trump also found common ground when both sued separately to contest a California law that would have required 2020 presidential candidates to release their tax returns.
Even if Simon and the Minnesota statute at issue make it through this case unscathed, state election officials have one more thorn in their sides to deal with before voters go to the polls in November.
The Democratic senatorial and congressional campaign committees and two activists for the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party sued Simon in November to contest another statute that determines ballot order in partisan races.
As the winner in all of Minnesota’s 2018 statewide elections, the DFL Party would be placed below the Minnesota GOP and both of the state’s marijuana legalization parties on the 2020 ballot, which Democrats argue would arbitrarily disadvantage them.
U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson, a Barack Obama appointee, has scheduled a hearing on Simon’s motion to dismiss that case for April 24.
Before running as a Republican, De La Fuente ran in various elections as a member of the Reform, American Delta and Democratic parties.