South Carolina Democratic Party Says it Won't Let Ex-Felon Run for Congress in its Primary

On January 13, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Democratic Party sent a letter to Brian Doyle, who wants to run in this year’s Democratic primary for U.S. House, 3rd district. The incumbent in that seat is not running for re-election.

The letter says, “Brian: As I am sure you are aware, the Party must follow the Constitution of the State of South Carolina when accepting a candidate’s filing. It is our understanding that you were convicted in 2003 of a felony and that alone disqualifies you from seeking office in South Carolina. The South Carolina Constitution clearly states, “A person convicted of a felony or an offense against the election laws is not qualified to file or to hold office, unless it has been fifteen years since the completion of the sentence for the crime or unless the person has been pardoned. The South Carolina Democratic Party would be forced under the law to reject your candidate filing this year.”

For over 90 years, state and federal courts have consistently ruled states cannot add to the qualifications listed in the U.S. Constitution to serve in Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed this understanding in 1995, when it ruled in U.S. Term Limits v Thornton that states may not keep candidates for Congress off any ballot, just because the person has already served three terms in Congress.

On January 27, Doyle sued the South Carolina Democratic Party over its threat to keep him off its primary ballot, and also over its failure so far to include him on the party’s web page list of candidates this year. Here is a link to the party’s web page. The case is Doyle v South Carolina Democratic Party, 3:10cv-203, filed in U.S. District Court.

If political parties had the power to add qualifications to run in their own primaries for Congress, then, in theory, the Republican Party (which once endorsed term limits for Congress) could provide by party rules that no long-serving member of Congress would be permitted to run in a Republican primary for re-election.


  1. Chris Cole · · Reply

    Richard, you say, “For over 90 years, state and federal courts have consistently ruled states cannot add to the qualifications listed in the U.S. Constitution to serve in Congress.” However, that isn’t precisely what is happening here. The state isn’t refusing to qualify the candidate. Rather, the Democratic Party is. And, if memory serves, the courts have ruled that a party can decide who to accept under their banner. In order to come under the court precedents you mention, it would seem that the DP would have to place Doyle on their ballot, then have state election officials disqualify him.

  2. But the Democratic Party is not saying it has a bylaw against ex-felons running. It is claiming that the state law bars the candidate.

    Cases that say states must permit ex-felons to be on the ballot for Congress are: (1) Application of Ferguson, New York, 1968; (2) Danielson v Fitzsimmons, Minnesota, 1950; (3) Gordon v Secretary of State of N.J., 1978; (4) Hamburg v State of Wyoming, 1991; (5)In re O’Connor, 17 NYS 2d 758 (New York 1940); (6) State ex rel Eaton v Schmahl (Minnesota 1917); (8) US v Richmond, 550 F Supp 605 (1982). Also in 1992 the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the Texas Democratic Party must let Lyndon LaRouche run in the party’s presidential primary. LaRouche v Hannah, 822 SW 2d 632.

  3. This could get interesting….

  4. If it’s a state law, it should be overturned.

    But if it’s a party rule, it should be allowed to stand. No political party should be required to endorse any candidate against the will of its members.

    That said… what, exactly, was the felony?

  5. The Democrats can’t stop him from filing.

  6. One more reason to abolish the party hack parties —

    P.R. and A.V. — NO primaries are needed.

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