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27-Year-Old Presidential Candidate Can Be Kept Off the Ballot

By William Peacock, Esq. on May 06, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Peta Lindsay was the Peace and Freedom Party's chosen candidate for President of the United States in 2012. One small problem: she was 27 years old. California, predictably, refused to put her name on the ballot due to her obvious ineligibility.

She sued, claiming First Amendment and Equal Protection violations, as well as a violation of the Twentieth Amendment. (Yeah, we had to look it up too.) In any case, this went exactly as you would expect.

You're Too Young, Kid

"At twenty-seven years of age, Lindsay wasn't constitutionally eligible to be president. See U.S. Const. art. II, § 1, cl. 5. But was she eligible to run?"

Though she conceded that she was categorically ineligible to serve, at least for another eight or so years, she argued that she had the right to run, as a means of sending a message. The panel opinion, authored by Chief Judge Kozinski, noted that there were alternative forums for her speech, and the state's interest in "the integrity of its political processes from frivolous or fraudulent candidacies" justified keeping ineligible candidates off of the ballot.

"Holding that Secretary Bowen couldn't exclude Lindsay from the ballot, despite her admission that she was underage, would mean that anyone, regardless of age, citizenship or any other constitutional ineligibility would be entitled to clutter and confuse our electoral ballot," Kozinski wrote. "Nothing in the First Amendment compels such an absurd result."

Equal Protection

She also argued that she "is similarly situated to other candidates ... because she qualified for and won the support of the Peace and Freedom Party." In other words, she's arguing Equal Protection.

"To the extent this is an argument that state officials can't draw distinctions between candidates who are clearly ineligible to become president and those who aren't, it fails: 'The Constitution does not require things that are different in fact or opinion to be treated in law as though they were the same.'"

There was an interesting mention of John McCain's eligibility for the 2008 election, but surprisingly, no "birther' arguments were made or discussed.

Twentieth Amendment

This was the odd, and actually semi-credible portion of the lawsuit. The Twentieth Amendment states, in part:

"[I]f the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified."

Lindsay argued that since Congress has already addressed the issue of ineligible candidates, this prevents states from making their own determinations.

Kozinski didn't buy it, of course, noting first that it is "far from clear that the Twentieth Amendment gives right to a private action," but if it does, "nothing ... states or implies that Congress has the exclusive authority to pass on the eligibility of candidates for President." The amendment is merely a contingency plan for instances were both the President and Vice President are ineligible to hold office.

"Nothing in its text or history suggests that it precludes state authorities from excluding a candidate with a known ineligibility from the presidential ballot," Kozinski concluded.

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