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Judge: Conn. Primary Unconstitutional

January 30, 2003

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ A federal judge Wednesday tossed out the state’s primary election system, saying that requiring challengers to get support from 15 percent of party delegates is unfair and unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Peter Dorsey issued no remedies or recommendations, but he urged the legislature to change the law as soon as possible to lower hurdles to qualifying for a primary ballot.

``It’s no secret that this subject has been on the table for years without action,″ Dorsey said in his ruling. ``This court cannot and will not wait to sustain constitutional rights in the speculative hope that politicians may eventually choose to respond.″

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal was reviewing the decision Wednesday and would not say if the state will appeal.

Gov. John G. Rowland has said he would support changes proposed by a state committee looking into ways to widen the field of candidates.

``He believes there should be some requirement that ensures the seriousness and viability of a candidate, but he would like to see the primary system opened up,″ said spokesman Chris Cooper.

The judge’s ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed on behalf of people who tried to get on the ballot but could not surmount the 15 percent challenge.

Last summer, Dorsey issued a temporary injunction and opened up the state’s primary elections to virtually any challenger. But that decision was reversed by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs argued that the 15 percent threshold is so difficult to achieve that it essentially prevents anyone from challenging an established member of Congress or state lawmaker in a multi-town district.

The state had argued that the law was put on the books to mirror the internal policies of the state Democratic and Republican parties.

Because the parties are private organizations with a constitutional right to free association, they argued they had the right to set up any rules they wished.

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