Judge Alito's Ballot Access Decision

Judge Samuel Alito authored a New Jersey ballot access decision in 1999, Council of Alternative Political Parties v Hooks, 179 F 3d 64. It upheld New Jersey’s early June petition deadline for non-presidential minor party and independent candidates. Alito upheld the deadline based on the state’s interest in “voter education” (in other words, if candidates could get on the ballot as late as, say, August, there might not be even time for voters to learn about them). Also, Alito said that a state has an interest in treating all candidates equally. The major parties hold their primaries in June, the same day minor party and independent candidate petitions are due; Alito felt it would be unfair to the major parties if minor parties could enter the race later than the primary.

Alito’s decision ignored part of the US Supreme Court decision Anderson v Celebrezze. Although Alito cited that case, he didn’t mention the part that cites historian Alexander Bickel for the proposition that the party system works better when new and minor parties are permitted to enter the race after the major parties have nominated.

However, Alito’s decision is thorough and comprehensive (13 pages in the printed version) and free of factual errors. And his declaration that states have an interest in treating all candidates equally is admirable, if only he means it in other contexts. New Jersey does not treat all candidates equally. Almost all New Jersey counties use the party column format, but they only give column headings to the Democratic and Republican Parties. All the Republicans are under a column, which says in big print “Republican”; but all the minor parties and independent candidates are jumbled into columns that are headed “Nominated by Petition”, with party labels in extremely small print next to the candidates’ names.

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