A federal judge on Friday declared that a 2015 state law that drew complaints from the Arkansas Libertarian Party is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. heard arguments in the case Monday, with an attorney for the state arguing that the issue is essentially moot because it pertained only to deadlines in 2015 and earlier this year that affected the upcoming November election.
Moody said the case isn't moot, however, because the requested relief could still be applied to the current election cycle.
Still, he denied the party's request to add to the Nov. 8 general election ballots, which haven't yet been printed, the names of additional Libertarian Party candidates who were nominated in a second convention in February. Moody cited a lack of evidence that they were unable to timely file for office by the November 2015 deadline.
The Libertarian Party complained in a lawsuit filed Oct. 15 that four sections of Arkansas law -- Arkansas Code Annotated 7-7-101, 7-7-203(c)(1), 7-7-205(c)(2) and 7-7-205(c)(3) -- unfairly required the Libertarians to conduct a nominating convention before the party filing period.
The law required the Libertarian Party to hold its nominating convention in October, more than four months before the Democratic and Republican primaries March 1. The Libertarian Party complained that the deadline put its candidates at a disadvantage because it didn't allow them as much time as Democratic and Republican candidates to think about running for office and then become known to voters before the nominating convention or primary.
As a newly recognized third party in Arkansas, the Libertarian Party was required to nominate its candidates by convention instead of holding a primary.
In denying the preliminary injunction in February, Moody said candidates from all parties -- Democratic, Republican and Libertarian -- had to decide by the Nov. 9, 2015, filing date whether they wanted to run for office. He also said that the party, its chairman and three candidates had the ability to conduct a convention, and did so.
The party wanted to substitute new candidates, nominated at a second convention Feb. 27, to replace those who had decided since October not to run for office after all. But Moody said in February that he couldn't order Secretary of State Mark Martin to include Libertarian Party nominees on county election ballots because the secretary of state deals with only statewide and presidential races, and the party didn't sue the state's county clerks.
He said on Friday that the four candidates for state House seats didn't prove that they couldn't file by the November 2015 deadline.
The lawsuit named only Martin as a defendant, and alleged that by enforcing the law, his office was violating the party's rights under the First and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
"If the Libertarian Party of Arkansas were allowed to conduct its nominating convention at the same time as the preferential primary election in Arkansas for the Republican and Democratic parties, there would be no voter confusion because the nominating process for all political parties would be conducted at the same time," Moody's order said. "Further, there would be no possibility of a 'sore loser' candidate," he added, referring to someone who jumps to another party just to meet a missed deadline.
Moody said, "The Court finds that the Arkansas statutory scheme concerning ballot access for new party state candidates places a minor burden on the Libertarian Party of Arkansas as evidenced by the Party's success in placing seventeen candidates on the General Election ballot."
He also found that the state "has not articulated any valid interest in requiring the Libertarian Party of Arkansas, or any new political party, to nominate their candidates by a convention which must take place before the preferential primary."
Even though the burden is minor, Moody said, "there is no interest, regulatory or otherwise, to justify this restriction by the state."
Metro on 07/17/2016