Politics & Government

Judge affirms ruling that barred 27-year-old from California’s ballot

A federal appellate court on Tuesday affirmed a Sacramento judge’s rejection of a 27-year-old woman’s claim that she had a constitutional right to appear on California’s 2012 presidential primary ballot.

U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. ruled that Peta Lindsay, who sought a place on the ballot as a Peace and Freedom Party candidate, was too young to be president, and thus had no right to be on the ballot. Burrell dismissed Lindsay’s challenge to Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s decision to leave her off the ballot. Bowen was guided by the state’s minimum-age regulation.

Lindsay, on the other hand, claimed the U.S. Constitution does not bar her from running for president, even though she is ineligible to hold the office. Article II, Section 1, clause 5 states no person under 35 “shall … be eligible to that Office.”

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Tuesday’s nine-page published opinion, sided with Burrell, saying Lindsay had no right to “clutter” the ballot.

“Like (comedian) Stephen Colbert before her, Peta Lindsay didn’t want to become president of the United States. She just wanted to run,” wrote Alex Kozinski, the circuit’s chief judge.

“I am a young socialist with a great deal of experience in the major struggles of the day, a great deal of optimism and energy and a proven dedication to fighting for justice for all people,” she wrote in a questionnaire she filled out in April 2012 for the Peace and Freedom Party in Los Angeles County. “I think all of this will be useful as a presidential candidate.”

Lindsay was on the 2012 ballots of a number of states as the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s presidential candidate. But the three-judge panel held Tuesday that California’s age regulation, “which simply recognized the lines that the Constitution already drew,” imposed a minimal burden on Lindsay’s First Amendment rights.

Citing two U.S. Supreme Court opinions, Kozinski wrote, “Although regulation of who can appear on the ballot ‘inevitably affects’ free speech, association and voting rights, we uphold restrictions that impose only a ‘lesser burden’ on those rights so long as they are reasonably related to the state’s ‘important regulatory interest.’ ”

Allowing Lindsay to appear on the ballot “would mean that anyone, regardless of age, citizenship or any other constitutional ineligibility would be entitled to clutter and confuse our electoral ballot. Nothing in the First Amendment compels such an absurd result,” the chief judge declared.

The panel rejected Lindsay’s equal protection claim, holding that treating ineligible candidates differently than eligible ones “was rationally related to the state’s interest in maintaining the integrity of the election process.”

Similarly, the judges did not buy the argument that the 20th Amendment prohibits states from determining the qualifications of presidential candidates.

Nothing “in the Twentieth Amendment’s text or history suggested that it precludes state authorities from excluding a candidate with a known ineligibility from the presidential ballot,” Kozinski wrote.

“The amendment merely grants Congress the authority to determine how to proceed if neither the president elect nor the vice president elect is qualified to hold office,” the judge concluded.