Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Sen. Mike Lee talks to the media about the Opioid Task Force at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, May 1, 2018. Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Rob Bishop have joined the Utah Republican Party's court battle to overturn the state's controversial law for nominating candidates for public office.

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Rob Bishop have joined the Utah Republican Party's court battle to overturn the state's controversial law for nominating candidates for public office.

Lee and Bishop filed an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief backing the state GOP's petition before the U.S Supreme Court. The party asked the high court last month to hear its appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the law passed as SB54 nearly five years ago.

"The Utah statute strips core party activists of their ability to select nominees who are loyal to the party platform," according to the brief. "It is a transparent effort by the state to control the types of candidates selected by the party."

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador, both Republicans, were also part of the brief urging the Supreme Court to reverse the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, "which disregards the long tradition in America of party autonomy regarding nomination processes."

SB54 allows candidates to choose to gather voter signatures for a place on the primary election ballot, allowing them to bypass the traditional caucus and convention system used by political parties to select nominees.

The law has caused considerable contention within the Republican Party, with some leaders pushing to end the court fight while others in the GOP turned to a private donor to help pay the legal bills.

The Alliance for a Better Utah, a progressive public policy advocacy group, called it "extremely disappointing" that Lee and Bishop have sided with a small group of "extreme" party delegates trying to control the political process in Utah.

"It is especially ironic that Lee, an aggressive advocate of the 10th Amendment, is now asking the Supreme Court to dictate how a state can run its elections," according to a statement.

Utahns have repeatedly expressed strong support for the dual-pathway system, Better Utah said, noting candidates who win at convention lose to candidates who gathered signatures.

Lee and Bishop weren't the only Utah politicians to weigh in on the court case.

Thirteen state legislators and six former legislators argue the Supreme Court is the "ideal" vehicle to "vindicate" the First Amendment rights of Utah political parties.

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"The issue of whether a government may constitutionally impose on a political party the kind of substantive intrusion that SB54 represents has divided the party and the state and will not be resolved absent the court's examination of the issue, since the governor has promised to veto all SB54 repeal measures," according to the brief.

The writ filed with the Supreme Court follows a failed attempt by backers of the Count My Vote initiative petition intended to strengthen SB54 to qualify for the ballot in the past election.

Count My Vote sparked in 2014 by circulating an initiative that would have eliminated the ability of political parties to advance candidates to a primary ballot.

SB54 was the result of a compromise between Count My Vote and the Republican-controlled Legislature.