On July 3, the Ninth Circuit upheld California law that requires independent candidates for Congress and partisan state office to have “No party preference” on the ballot instead of the label “independent.” However, the ruling leaves open for a future lawsuit the related issue of whether the law is unconstitutional as applied to members of unqualified parties; the law requires “no party preference” for them as well. The case is Chamness v Bowen, 11-56303. The 26-page opinion says there is no evidence that “no party preference”, instead of “independent”, injures independent candidates. The decision does not mention the point that California still permits independent presidential candidates to use the word “independent” on the ballot.
The opinion suggests that it is rational for California to bar the word “independent”, because otherwise there might be confusion with candidates who are members of the American Independent Party. The decision does not mention the decisions of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and the Minnesota Supreme Court that ruled “independent” is too basic a word to be banned for independent candidates.
Footnotes four and five of the decision both say that this opinion does not express any opinion as to whether or not it is unconstitutional to force a member of an unqualified party to be forced to have “no party preference” on the ballot. Footnote five, on page 18, says that the 1980 California Supreme Court decision Libertarian Party of California v Eu does not control that issue, and ends by saying, “We therefore express no views as to the validity of California’s restriction against stating preferences for non-qualified parties.” The largest and most active non-qualified parties in California are the Reform Party, the Constitution Party, and the Justice Party; all three of them are political bodies, which means the Secretary of State recognizes that they are trying to qualify and instructs county election officials to keep a tally of their registration figures, so the state will know if they ever do qualify or re-qualify.