The lengthy legal fight over Utah election law is over as U.S. Supreme Court refuses to accept GOP appeal

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ended five years of legal battles by the Utah Republican Party to quash a 2014 election law that allows candidates to qualify for the ballot by collecting signatures and/or through the caucus-convention system.

Justices refused to hear the party’s challenge of that law, called SB54, rejecting the party’s arguments that it unconstitutionally interferes with its right to choose how to select its own nominees.

The Utah Republican Party Constitutional Defense Committee, a party arm that was given power to control the lawsuit, said the fight to erase SB54 is not over but will switch from the courts to the Legislature.

“We call upon our legislators to do the right thing and repeal this controversial law,” its written statement said.

It added that the decision imperils “the rights of assembly and speech of all private expressive associations,” including “political parties, labor unions, private colleges and universities, religious organizations and many others. There is far more at stake here than just the future of Utah’s SB54.”

But Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said no such repeal is likely this year.

“SB54 has been a contentious item within … the Republican Party,” Vickers, said. “But there’s not an appetite in the majority party in the Senate to do any kind of repeal.”

The court’s decision was hailed by Rich McKeown, executive co-chairman of Count My Vote. That group of moderate Republicans initially sought a ballot initiative that would have replaced entirely the caucus-convention system with open primary elections but settled on SB54 as a compromise.

“The legal challenge is over and now establishes the dual path as the law of Utah,” McKeown said. “The law has proven to be popular, and it has accomplished its purpose of increased voter participation.” A recent Salt Lake Tribune/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll showed Utahns oppose erasing SB54 by a 2-to-1 margin.

Meanwhile, Keep My Voice, a conservative group that has fought SB54 and helped block a ballot initiative by Count My Vote last year that would have cemented it more firmly into law, said it will continue to fight legislatively.

“Despite the current legal setback, Keep My Voice will continue to advocate for giving every individual and neighborhood a representative voice, removing money as the dominant factor in elections and holding elected officials accountable,” said Phill Wright, executive director of the group.

The group headed by Wright, a former vice chairman of the Utah GOP, is bankrolled to the tune of at least $175,000 by Dave Bateman, the CEO of a Utah software company called Entrata.

Chase Thomas, executive director of the left-leaning Utah Alliance for a Better Utah, urged a complete end to battles over SB54. “As this prolonged and unnecessary controversy is put to rest, we strongly urge government officials and party leaders to move on and cease any legal and legislative attempts to dilute, amend, or repeal this popular law.”

This article originally appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune. Read it in its entirety here.

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