Judges dismiss suit challenging validity of Arundel judicial vote

March 17, 2004|By Johnathon E. Briggs | Johnathon E. Briggs,SUN STAFF

A three-judge panel has ruled against nullifying the primary election results for Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, dismissing as "without merit" an independent voter's allegation that it was unconstitutional to exclude him from casting a ballot.

The judges said the Maryland legislature is the "correct forum" in which to address reform of the judicial election system.

The decision puts the brakes on a case that could have transformed procedures statewide for electing judges. The American Civil Liberties Union, which joined the lawsuit, plans to appeal.

In dismissing the lawsuit filed by Gregory Care of Linthicum, the judges disagreed with the suit's central argument that judicial elections, in which candidates appear on both Democratic and Republican ballots, are nonpartisan.

Given such "cross-filing" and that candidates need not list their party affiliation or be members of the Democratic or Republican party to run in either party's primary, the elections should be open to all registered voters regardless of party affiliation, the suit argued.

Maryland's primaries are closed, meaning that only Democrats may vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans in the Republican primary. Independents, those not registered with either major party, account for 14 percent of the Maryland electorate and are prohibited by law from voting in primaries.

By denying independents the right to vote in judicial primaries, the state disenfranchises them and violates their rights under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the state Declaration of Rights, the suit alleged.

In a 26-page opinion issued Thursday, the panel said the judicial election is "in essence, a partisan process," even though candidates are listed without party affiliation.

The panel noted that in opinions from 1942 to 1976, the state attorney general has repeatedly found that the primary does not violate any constitutional rights. The judges also dismissed the suit on procedural grounds.

Care's complaint amended a similar suit brought in St. Mary's County Circuit Court last month by attorney Michael B. Suessmann, an independent voter in Leonardtown.

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