Utah Supreme Court justices poked at the Utah Republican Party’s interpretation of a controversial new state election law in a hearing Monday as hundreds of candidates work to get on the primary ballot. Though lawyers for the GOP, Utah Democratic Party or the state didn’t want to read the tea leaves afterward, questions from Justices Deno Himonas and Christine Durham might signal where the court is headed. Republican Party attorney Marcus Mumford argued that the state can’t tell political parties how to select their nominees for public office. “This statute doesn’t do that,” Durham said. Under the law, organizations that register with the state as a “qualified political party” — which the Utah Republican Party did — must allow candidates to gather petition signatures, go through the party’s convention or both to secure a place on the primary election ballot.
But the Utah GOP maintains the decision rests with the party — not the candidate — and it has chosen Utah’s long-standing caucus and convention system. The state contends the candidate has the option to seek the nomination at the convention or by collecting a requisite number of signatures or following both paths.
A federal judge asked the Utah Supreme Court to resolve that question of state law as part of the Republican Party’s ongoing lawsuit against the lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees state elections.