SALT LAKE CITY — Utah asked the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday to deny the Utah Republican Party's petition to hear its case against the state's controversial political candidate nomination law.
The Utah Attorney General's Office argued in a 36-page brief that there is no reason for the high court to take the case because lower courts are not split over whether states may prescribe party nominations by primary election.
"For nearly 50 years, this court has repeatedly recognized the states' power to prescribe political party nominations by primary elections. Not once has this court— or any other court — cast constitutional doubt on that practice," according to the brief.
The Utah GOP sued the state over the 2014 law passed as SB54, which allows candidates to bypass Utah's traditional caucus and convention system by gathering signatures to get on the primary election ballot. The party contends the law threatens the First Amendment rights of not only political parties but other organizations, including religious institutions.
A federal judge upheld the law but the party appealed.
The Utah GOP went to the Supreme Court after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law "strikes an appropriate balance" between protecting the interests of the state in managing elections and allowing the party and individuals to express their preferences in a democratic fashion and to form associations protected by the First Amendment.
In its brief Tuesday, the state argues that the 10th Circuit correctly applied previous Supreme Court rulings in its decision.
"Concluding otherwise would require overruling or disavowing a host of this court's cases from the past five decades, imperiling every state's election laws in the process," according to the brief.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, earlier this month asked Gov. Gary Herbert in a Facebook post to stop defending the law. He wrote there is "no good reason" for the state to oppose the Supreme Court hearing the case.
"For the love of the Constitution — and for the good of all political parties — please stop defending SB54. It's unconstitutional," Lee wrote.7 comments on this story
"I suspect that the Supreme Court will agree, assuming it grants review in this case," the senator wrote. "But either way, this is the kind of case that should be decided finally and on the merits by the Supreme Court."
Lee, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and 19 current and former state lawmakers have filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the effort to overturn the law, as have several political and religious organizations.
At least one Utah legislator plans to introduce a bill repealing SB54 in the current legislative session.