The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to not take up Utah’s compromise law on the state’s candidate nomination process likely puts an end to the long and passionate battle between opposing factions within the Republican Party. The decision keeps the dual-path process, which allows candidates to pursue the traditional caucus and convention route and/or gather signatures in order to secure a spot on the ballot.
After five years of bitter party infighting, Utahns deserve resolution to what has become an expensive squabble, and potential candidates should be given certainty to the process for election.
Those who prefer the old caucus only system seem unlikely to stand down. Leaders of the coalition that mustered the failed legal challenge say they will continue to try to overturn the SB54 compromise law through the legislative process. That effort, too, faces an uphill battle that is unlikely to succeed.
Polls show strong public support for the law that allows candidates two paths to the primary election ballot — by vote of caucus delegates at the convention, and/or by obtaining a requisite number of voter signatures. The law was passed as a compromise in the face of the Count My Vote ballot initiative in 2014 that would have done away with the caucus system — an effort that by many accounts appeared to be on track for success.
Current legislative leaders don’t seem to have either the appetite nor the time this year to again take up the issue.
On the legal front, there is nowhere left for those within the party to take their complaint that SB54 deprived them of constitutional rights to freely voice through the caucus system their candidate preferences. By declining the appeal, the Supreme Court leaves intact the ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals which held that SB54 “strikes an appropriate balance” between the free speech rights of party members and the state’s duty to effectively manage election procedures.
But some who favor the caucus system remain deeply hostile to the dual-path process, possibly because it has allowed candidates who did not win caucus support to make it onto the primary ballot, and eventually to public office.19 comments on this story
The caucus system gives a disproportionate amount of influence to highly-active grassroots party members in candidate selection, and to large extent, defining the party platform. Moderates, and those not chosen to be caucus delegates, have a strong argument of their own that a caucus-only system deprives them of the right to effectively assert their voice in the process. The signature path, however, is expensive and benefits wealthy, self-funded or well-known candidates.
SB54 remains the law. Utah has shown over the years an ability to elect principled candidates through a wide-range of electoral systems. Just as the Supreme Court quietly demurred from hearing the final appeal, those who pursued the caucus-only cause should embrace and engage in what is a viable law forged in genuine compromise.