ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Supreme Court on Thursday, Jan. 9, denied a request for a Republican candidate to be added to the state's presidential primary ballot, saying his claims "lacked legal merit."
In a three-page order filed Thursday afternoon, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea said the court took quick action to deny the request with about a week before early voting is set to start in the contest "so as to not impair the orderly election process." Gildea said that a fuller opinion would follow.
The decision came hours after the court considered oral arguments over the Republican Party's move to submit and the state's willingness to accept a presidential primary ticket with one candidate.
Republican presidential hopeful Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente and a Minnesota voter supporting him sued the state after they felt the Minnesota Republican Party and the Secretary of State's office suppressed their right to free expression by putting only one candidate, President Donald Trump, on the Minnesota GOP ticket.
Republicans will also be able to write in other candidates, but GOP leaders will have the final say in which candidates can be counted by state officials tallying the results. Democrats voting in the primary can expect to see 15 presidential hopefuls on the ballot, as well as the option to cast a vote for an "uncommitted" option.
Lawyer Erick Kaardal on Thursday morning argued the Republican Party violated state law in leaving De La Fuente and other qualified candidates off the ballot and that the secretary of state wrongfully decided to uphold that decision. He asked that the court find the secretary of state erred in the decision to accept the one-candidate ballot and allow De La Fuente's name to appear on the March 3 ticket.
And if the court were to side with the state, Kaardal said, it should find the state law unconstitutional, as it prevents Minnesota voters like Jim Martin, Kaardal's client, from having the option to express themselves by voting for a candidate they support.
"His voice not only won't count, but it won't be counted," Kaardal said. "The voters who are paying for the election should have options."
Nathan Hartshorn, an assistant attorney general arguing on behalf of the state, said political parties should have a right to expression and of association in choosing which candidates will be placed on their primary ballots. And while voters are guaranteed certain rights in other elections, those might not extend to partisan primaries.
"Primary elections are different," he said. “The right to vote, especially in a presidential primary, does not imply the right to demand that the candidate you want to vote for is in that primary."
The justices raised some questions about the GOP's motivations in submitting a ballot with just one name on it. And it was hard for either side to assess since party leaders had issued little explanation for the move, other than telling reporters they hoped to support the president's reelection campaign.
The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and the Secretary of State's office issued briefs supporting the GOP's right to put up a primary ballot with a single candidate. But the Republican Party didn't file a brief ahead of a court deadline.