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Court Backs State Law On Minor Political Parties

A federal appeals court has refused to block a Florida law that sets requirements for minor political parties that want to place presidential candidates on the general election ballot.

The Independent Party of Florida and the Party for Socialism and Liberation contend the law violates First Amendment and equal-protection rights, but a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday rejected their attempt to obtain a preliminary injunction. In doing so, the appeals court upheld a June decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker.

The law, which has been in place since the 2012 presidential election, offers two avenues for minor parties to place candidates on Florida’s presidential ballot: They can submit petitions signed by 1 percent of registered voters in the state or they can affiliate with national parties that nominate presidential and vice presidential candidates.

The Independent Party of Florida and the Party for Socialism and Liberation want to place presidential candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot but have not complied with either requirement. They filed a lawsuit against Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee challenging the constitutionality of the law, but the appeals court denied the preliminary injunction because it said the parties “are unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims.”

“Together, the affiliation and petition methods serve the important state interest of limiting ballot access to presidential candidates that have a modicum of support somewhere --- either nationally or in Florida,” said the 15-page ruling , written by Chief Judge William Pryor and joined by Judges Robin Rosenbaum and Robert Luck. “The minor parties contend that a state may not consider national support in setting ballot-access requirements for presidential elections, but presidential elections implicate a unique ‘national interest’ because they are decided by voters from across the nation.”

In part, the plaintiffs have argued that the law violates equal-protection rights because it treats minor parties differently based on whether they are affiliated with national parties that qualify for the ballot. Without such an affiliation, they are forced to meet the 1 percent signature requirement.

But the appeals court said “Florida’s goal of accounting for the national interest in presidential elections justifies its decision to provide different paths to the ballot for minor parties that affiliate with a qualified national party and those that do not.”

“The presidential candidates of qualified national parties are likely to appear on the ballot in multiple other states besides Florida and to enjoy some level of national organization,” Pryor wrote. “In that respect, they are not similarly situated to minor parties in Florida that have no proven national support. Although the extent to which states must accommodate the national interest in presidential elections is unclear, they are certainly permitted to account for this interest by tailoring ballot-access restrictions for candidates with a modicum of national support. And the burden this disparate treatment imposes on minor parties that do not affiliate with a national party is not severe.”

The ruling also pointed to a 1983 ruling when the appeals court, in a case known as Libertarian Party of Florida v. Florida, upheld a law that placed tougher requirements on minor parties. Under that law, which was later changed, the state require minor parties to submit petition signatures of 3 percent of registered voters.

“Florida’s current ballot-access regime is less restrictive than the one we upheld in Libertarian Party, and it serves the same state interest,” Pryor wrote.

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