WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court justices unanimously overturned a 2006 ruling declaring that New York’s party convention system for selecting nominees for the state’s trial court was unconstitutional.
Since 1921, the state has required political parties to select their nominees for the state Supreme Court at a party convention.
A group of voters, unsuccessful candidates and a civic group called Common Cause challenged the convention process in 2004, claiming it violated the First Amendment rights of voters and candidates not chosen by the party leadership.
In a 12-page opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia rejected the underlying premise of the lawsuit, noting that “(n)one of our cases establishes an individual’s constitutional right to have a ‘fair shot’ at winning the party’s nomination.”
Scalia said the state could replace the system if it wanted, but the system itself is not unconstitutional. “Party conventions, with their attendant ‘smoke-filled rooms’ and domination by party leaders, have long been an accepted manner of selecting party candidates,” he wrote.
A federal appeals court had ordered the state to use a direct primary election instead of the party convention system. According to Scalia, a primary system “leaves judicial selection to voters uninformed about judicial qualifications and places a high premium upon the ability to raise money.”
Though the ruling upheld the party convention system, it hardly embraced the process. Four of the nine justices wrote separate opinions, including Justice John Paul Stevens, who said he thought it “appropriate to emphasize the distinction between constitutionality and wise policy.” See ruling.