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United States Supreme Court Rejects Minor Party Challenge to California’s Top Two Primary

On October 13, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court denied plaintiffs’ petition for certiorari in Rubin v. Padilla, a constitutional challenge by California’s “minor” political parties to California’s Proposition 14 (the Top Two Candidate Open Primary Act). The Court’s refusal to take up the petition means the Court of Appeal’s decision upholding the Act is now final. See Rubin v. Padilla, 233 Cal. App. 4th 1128 (2015).

In Rubin, the minor parties contended that Proposition 14 violates their constitutional right of association by limiting their ability to access the general election ballot; that the measure violated equal protection by purportedly “singling out” the minor parties for that effect; that it created voter “confusion” by giving the impression that candidates who expressed a preference for a given party was that party’s official standard-bearer; and that the measure violated the “Elections Clause” of the U.S. Constitution insofar as it affected federal elections.

After the trial court dismissed all of these claims, the plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of the first two claims.  The California Court of Appeal rejected those challenges again, and the California Supreme Court refused to take up the case in April. The United States Supreme Court was the plaintiffs’ last stop.

Rubin was one of six lawsuits filed since the voters approved Proposition 14 in 2010. The courts have dismissed five of the actions. Two would-be candidates filed a new suit on October 8 challenging their inability to list the unqualified Socialist Party USA as their “party preference” on the ballot.  This is similar to the claims presented in two of the cases that have already been dismissed.

Nielsen Merksamer represented the campaign in support of Proposition 14 and also represented the supporters of the measure in each of the five subsequent lawsuits: Californians to Defend the Open Primary, which was initially formed as the primary campaign committee in support of Proposition 14; the Independent Voter Project, which played a key role in the drafting of the measure; former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, who, as a State Senator, provided the crucial vote to put Proposition 14 on the ballot; and David Takashima, one of several million independent voters who gained new electoral rights under the measure.

For more information please contact Chris Skinnell.