February 28, 2017

Utah GOP Chair James Evans letter spells out legal basis for SB 54 dispute: Certification to Utah Supreme Court next?

In a letter Friday (embedded below), Utah GOP Chair James Evans responded to two previous letters from Utah Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox relating to issues of disagreement between the Utah Republican Party and the Utah Elections Office over SB 54.

In the letter, Evans highlights areas of disagreement with the LG and spells out the Republican Party’s analysis of the dispute, request possible certification to the Utah Supreme Court for final resolution of the issue. With filing period opening in early January for candidates to begin collecting signatures, all parties to the dispute face an interest in expedited resolution.

In the letter, Evans disputes Cox’s recent assertion that the intent of the state legislature in passing SB 54 still matters, pointing to efforts by the LG’s counsel disputing inclusion of intent in court filings, as well as referring to the intent with citation to legislative leaders during the debate over SB 54 prior to passage.

Beyond this initial point about legislative intent, the bulk of Evans’ letter lays out a legal basis for the Republican Party retaining control over the nomination process and, ostensibly, requiring candidates to participate in the caucus/convention nomination system in order to gain access to the ballot.

According to Evans, the LG’s office has previously indicated that it did not have any interest in interfering with the Republican Party’s internal candidate selection process. For this reason, Evan’s said, Judge David Nuffer rejected Republican Party concerns that its “nominee may not necessarily be a party member or committed to the party platform[.]” Further, Nuffer suggested to the Republican Party that it should adjust its “membership requirements” to resolve the concerns.

As a result of Nuffer’s statements, the Utah GOP revised party membership rules to provide for greater control over membership, setting the stage for a showdown as candidates begin to consider whether they must collect signatures or seek the party nomination through the caucus/convention process. Evans noted that per Cox’s letters, the LG will overrule any objection filed by the Party “challenging a candidate who attempts to circumvent the Party’s rules and seek its nomination by signature-gathering.”

In his letters of November 19 and 20, Cox appeared to threaten the Republican Party with a loss of its Qualified Political Party status, argues Evans, contrary to what the LG’s counsel argued on October 27:

Where a party assumes a certain position in a legal proceeding, and succeeds in maintaining that position, he may not thereafter, simply because his interests have changed, assume a contrary position, especially if it be to the prejudice of the party who has acquiesced in the position formerly taken by him.”

Evans argues this statement, and others from the Utah Lieutenant Governor’s office during the defense of SB 54, have been relied upon by Nuffer and the Republican Party.

After spelling out a legal analysis in support of the Republican Party’s position, Evans closes with reference to Cox’s suggestion of expedited legal conclusion and possible certification to the Utah Supreme Court for resolution of the question.

 Read the full nine-page letter below.


James Evans Letter to Spencer Cox 12.3.2015

About Daniel Burton

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. You can follow him on his blog PubliusOnline.com where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas. He is active on social media, Republican politics, and has been named to PoliticIt’s list of the “Top-50 Utah Political Opinion Leaders” on Twitter. You can reach him directly at dan.burton@gmail.com

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