CINCINNATI (CN) - Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell violated the free-speech rights of third-party candidate Ralph Nader by removing him from the 2004 ballot for failing to collect enough signatures, the 6th Circuit ruled. However, the court held that Blackwell is immune from liability.
In the months leading up to the 2004 election, circulators for Nader collected more than 14,000 signatures - well above the 5,000 they needed for their candidate to appear on the ballot. Local election boards invalidated 8,000 of those signatures, leaving 6,464 names.
A group of Ohio Democratic voters challenged that amount, and Blackwell ordered a hearing to test the validity of the remaining signatures.
The staff attorney who conducted the hearing threw out another 2,700 names after testimony and evidence revealed that some petition circulators weren't living in Ohio at the time, in violation of Ohio election codes.
Blackwell then removed Nader from the ballot, and Nader failed to convince the courts to reverse course.
Nader again filed suit in 2006, suing Blackwell in his personal capacity and challenging the legality of the residency requirement for petition circulators. He argued that the requirement violates the First and 14th Amendments.
The circuit court acknowledged that the requirement denied Nader the right to use circulators of his choice. "It is also clear that Nader's alleged injury is fairly traceable to Blackwell's conduct," Chief Judge Boggs wrote, because Blackwell applied and enforced the requirement.
However, the court determined that the right "was not clearly established when Blackwell acted," so Blackwell is immune from suit.
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