A very big development in the ballot access lawsuit filed in federal court in Virginia by Texas Governor Rick Perry and joined by Newt Gingrich, Rich Santorum, and Jon Huntsman. Judge John Gibney just filed a five-page order in which he states that
there is a strong likelihood that the Court will find the residency requirement for petition circulators to be unconstitutional. The authorities make clear that circulating petitions for candidates is a form of protected speech, and that the Commonwealth has a heavy burden to justify the restriction on speech by showing not only that the limitation achieves a valid state interest but also that the limitation is no broader in scope than necessary to achieve that purpose. As in all strict scrutiny cases, the state has a difficult task to demonstrate the propriety of its limitation on protected speech. For this reason, the Court believes that the plaintiffs have a substantial likelihood of succeeding on the merits, at least on the issue of the validity of the residency requirement.
Yesterday, Judge Gibney ordered the Virginia State Board of Elections to notify all local county electoral boards that they are barred “from ordering any ballots” or “from mailing out any absentee ballots” until after the judge holds a hearing on the case on January 13. The judge says in the order that he will make a decision on the merits of the temporary restraining order (TRO) and preliminary injunction being sought by the candidates on the 13th.
Additionally, the ACLU of Virginia filed an amicus brief today on the side of the Republican presidential candidates, arguing that Virginia’s 10,000-signature requirement for a presidential candidate to appear on the ballot “reduces the quantity of [political] speech available in Virginia, and directly infringes on the First Amendment rights of candidates, voters, petition circulators, and political parties.”
The ACLU also argues that Virginia’s residency requirement for petition circulators is not narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. In fact, the ACLU says that Virginia has “fail[ed] even to articulate a compelling interest.” It asks the court to grant the plaintiffs’ request for a TRO and a preliminary injunction. Looks like the judge agrees with the ACLU.
So we should know by the end of the day on Friday whether Perry, Gingrich, Huntsman and/or Santorum will be added to the ballot or if the only choices for Virginia voters will be Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in the Republican primary on March 6. With this latest order from the judge, it is highly likely that there will be additional candidates on the ballot.