Arizona has to allow residents of other states to circulate petitions to put independent presidential contenders on the ballot, the U.S. Supreme Court has concluded.
Without comment, the justices on Monday upheld a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which concluded the restriction places a "severe burden" on presidential contenders who are not Arizona residents and do not have the benefit of being nominated by one of the major political parties. The appellate judges said Arizona's law placed an undue burden on the rights of presidential candidates who do not live in Arizona as well as their out-of-state supporters.
Monday's decision actually is a double defeat for Arizona.
It also permanently voids another state law which requires independent candidates to submit nominating petitions for the Arizona ballot in early June of presidential election years. That is months before either major party knows who will lead their tickets.
The high court action does not tell Arizona when to set its new deadline - instead it leaves it up to the Legislature.
Secretary of State Ken Bennett said he is disappointed in the decision but will recommend the necessary changes in statute to comply.
The ruling stems from the ill-fated effort by Ralph Nader to get his name on the 2004 ballot.
Attorneys for Jan Brewer - then the secretary of state - argued that the residency requirement was necessary to prevent fraud. If nothing else, they said, requiring that circulators be Arizona residents means they could be served with legal papers if questions arose about the validity of any signatures on the petitions they collected.
But Judge Mary Schroeder, writing last year's 9th Circuit ruling, said the state never presented any evidence showing there were problems in the past of fraud by out-of-state circulators, or even that those who are not Arizona residents are more likely than those who live here to engage in fraud.
The question of the filing deadline is a bit more complex.
Brewer argued through her lawyers that Arizona has a compelling need for that deadline: printing up the ballots. Specifically, she noted that each presidential candidate actually requires the listing of 10 electors, all of which takes up space.
Brewer, now the governor, said there is no need for this deadline for the recognized parties, saying the state knows the recognized parties will have candidates and electors, even if their names are not yet known, Brewer argued that the possibility of adding one or more independents could extend the number of pages needed for the ballot, leaving counties with insufficient time to order more paper.
Schroeder, however, said that argument made no sense.
She pointed out the state doesn't know in June how many ballot initiatives there will be, either. The deadline to file those is a month later.
Bennett said he believes the new deadline for independent candidates will need to be much closer to the actual dates of the party conventions. This year that dragged into September with the Republicans meeting in Minnesota.
Nader managed to get on the Arizona general election ballot last year despite the now-voided June 4 deadline - and despite the limit on circulators - submitting sufficient signatures by that date to qualify. It didn't make much of a difference: He got only 11,301 votes out of more than 2.3 million ballots cast.