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6th Cir Affirms Lib Party Pres. Candidate's Ballot Access Denial

By William Peacock, Esq. on May 02, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Three minutes cost Gary Johnson, the 2012 Libertarian Party candidate for President of the United States, his spot on the ballot in the State of Michigan. Three minutes.

Johnson originally ran in the Republican primary. At the last minute, he requested to be removed from the ballot in that primary in order to allow him to run as a Libertarian. Elections officials notified him that he was three minutes too late.

Why not just run on both? Michigan has a "sore loser" law. This prevents a candidate, who loses the primary for one party, from running again as the candidate for another party. The purpose of this is to keep intraparty disputes out of the general election, to minimize voter confusion, and to prevent parties from splitting into factions.

The most famous example of such a "sore loser" issue was the 1912 Presidential election, when former President Theodore Roosevelt sought his party's nomination. When they picked William Howard Taft instead, Roosevelt ran with the support of the newly-formed "Bull Moose" Party (the nearly equal split cost the Republicans the election).

After determining that the case was not moot -- though the election has long-since passed, the issue could arise in future elections -- the Sixth Circuit's opinion on the ultimate issue (constitutionality of the "sore loser" law) said:

The district court thoroughly and correctly evaluated the arguments of the parties on the merits. After reviewing the record, the parties' briefs, and the applicable law, we determine that no jurisprudential purpose would be served by a panel opinion on the merits. Therefore, we affirm the district court's judgment for the reasons stated in its September 10, 2012 opinion and order.

Okay, that's our new judicial pet peeve.

For those who missed the lower court's opinion, it surveyed a number of prior cases that dealt with "sore loser" laws (all of which ended badly for the "sore loser"), and determined that the law was constitutional. The state's interest in an orderly election free from intraparty disputes and confused voters trumps Johnson's right to run twice. He is free to run for president. He just can't lose one primary and then jump on the ballot anyway. Similarly, the Libertarians can run anyone they choose - so long as it isn't a primary loser.

Or they could've just submitted the paperwork three minutes earlier.

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