Arizona's early June deadline for independent presidential candidates to get on the general election ballot is illegal, a federal appellate court ruled Wednesday.
In a unanimous decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals accepted the arguments by an attorney for Ralph Nader that the deadline, which applies only to those not affiliated with major parties, is unfair.
The judges rejected arguments by Secretary of State Jan Brewer that the early deadline is necessary to print ballots for the November election. The judges said the state's arguments held no water because election officials don't know for weeks - or months - later what other issues will also be on the ballot.
And they noted the deadline doesn't apply to the major parties, who are allowed to submit the names of their candidates for the ballot in August or even later.
Potentially more significant, the judges also agreed with Nader that it is illegal to forbid anyone but Arizona residents to circulate petitions for presidential candidates.
The two conclusions, unless overturned, could open the door to more independents running for president - and possibly other offices. The judges, in voiding the restrictions, left it unclear whether the ruling applies only to presidential contenders or to all independent candidates.
It will now, however, immediately affect Nader. Chris Driscoll, Nader's spokesman, said the perennial candidate, who challenged the requirements in 2004, already submitted sufficient signatures for this year's campaign by Arizona's now-illegal June 4 deadline.
Brewer said she disagrees with the ruling and will ask the Arizona Attorney General's Office to seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The law Brewer was defending says all nominating petitions must be submitted at least 90 days before the September primary election, which in turn, is two months before the general election. Challenges to nominating petitions must be filed within 10 days of that deadline.
Wednesday's ruling does not set a new filing deadline, leaving it up to the Legislature to recraft the law in a fashion that does not interfere with the rights of independent presidential candidates.
The appellate judges looked with no more favor on Brewer's argument that the state needs to restrict who can circulate nominating petitions because it makes it easier to subpoena circulators during that 10-day deadline for appeal.
Appellate Judge Mary Schroeder said if the state is concerned about being able to find circulators, there is a legal remedy. She said Arizona legally can require those people to submit to the state's jurisdiction even though they are not residents.