ACLU of Virginia Defends Libertarian Party’s Right to Petition

By Frank Knaack, ACLU of Virginia Director of Public Policy and Communications

Last spring, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Virginia law imposing a state residency requirement on persons who petition for third-party presidential candidates to appear on the general election ballot.  Unfortunately, while every federal court of appeals to look at this issue in the last decade has agreed with the Fourth Circuit that this kind of statute is unconstitutional, the State Board of Elections decided to waste the Commonwealth’s limited resources by appealing the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.  So, yesterday we asked the U.S. Supreme Court to deny the State Board of Elections request for review.

We filed the case on behalf of the Libertarian Party of Virginia and Darryl Bonner, a non-Virginia resident who often circulates petitions on behalf of Libertarian Party candidates in other states.  Under the law, if a presidential candidate or their party received less than 10 percent of the total vote cast in either of the two preceding statewide elections then they are considered to be a “non-party,” and thus must meet minimum signature requirements to be listed on the general election ballot.  In addition, the signatures must be witnessed by a Virginia resident.  We argued that this law denied the Libertarian Party of Virginia and Darryl Bonner their First Amendment right to petition, and the Fourth Circuit agreed.

In its decision last spring, the Fourth Circuit recognized that circulating petitions is core political speech, thus the state may not restrict it without a compelling reason.  The Commonwealth failed to meet this burden.  By denying the appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court would send a clear signal to our State Board of Elections – it’s time to work with the legislature to bring Virginia’s law into compliance with the Constitution.

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