September 28, 2004
Supreme Court Rules Nader Can Be On Ballot
By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
SANTA FE The state Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered Ralph Nader's name to be placed on New Mexico's Nov. 2 ballot as an independent presidential candidate, turning back a Democratic challenge to his candidacy.
The court announced its decision after deliberating for about 90 minutes following oral arguments in the case earlier Tuesday. Chief Justice Petra Maes said a written opinion would be issued later.
Carol Miller, coordinator for Nader in New Mexico, welcomed the decision.
"I think we can move forward with the election now," Miller said.
Democrats worried that Nader will take some support away from John Kerry, potentially giving President Bush the edge in New Mexico, which is among the swing states considered critical by both parties in this year's presidential election.
State Democratic Party Chairman John Wertheim said Tuesday that at this point, he does not believe Nader will alter the outcome of the contest in New Mexico.
"Because what has happened in the course of this legal proceeding is that it is clear that there is no substance to the Nader campaign except as a front from the Republicans and the Bush-Cheney campaign," he said.
"I am relieved the court phase is over because now we can get back to the issues," Wertheim said.
Bush lost the state in 2000 by 366 votes. Nader ran as the Green Party nominee four years ago and received about 4 percent of the vote.
Nader is on the ballot in more than 30 states, but faces court challenges in some of those and is suing for ballot access in several others.
The New Mexico Democratic Party brought a lawsuit against Nader after he was certified as a candidate by Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Nader filed nominating petitions Sept. 7 with signatures of about 31,000 voters more than twice the required amount to secure a spot on the ballot.
But state District Judge Theresa Baca in Bernalillo County ruled last week that Nader didn't qualify as an independent candidate in New Mexico because he's running in other states as the nominee for minor parties, including the Reform Party in Florida and Colorado.
At Nader's request, the Supreme Court stopped election officials from printing or mailing ballots without his name on them. However, several hundred absentee ballots without Nader were sent to voters overseas before that order late last week.
The court on Tuesday directed election officials to resume printing ballots with Nader's name on them.
Nader's lawyers argued that Baca wrongly interpreted New Mexico election law and that her ruling violated the Constitution, including the First Amendment rights of the candidate and voters to free speech and political association.
State law defines an independent as a person not affiliated with a political party.
Nader contended the law doesn't apply to a presidential candidate's political activities outside New Mexico. For instance, a section of the law exempts presidential candidates from requirements imposed on independent candidates for other offices: that they be registered to vote in New Mexico and have no party affiliation.
Paul Kienzle, an Albuquerque lawyer, told the justices Tuesday that a candidate's "experience elsewhere does not determine who runs on our ballot."
Miller said the ruling was important for third-party candidates nationally.
"If they had ruled against us . . . it would set a precedent that would have basically made it next to impossible for a minor party or independent or growing party to be in a national election."
Nader had contended the district court ruling also violated constitutional equal protection guarantees by imposing a discriminatory burden on independent presidential candidates to gain access to the ballot.
Lawyers for Democrats argued that the state's requirements for an independent presidential candidate are constitutionally permissible.
"New Mexico's voters are entitled to know, and the state is entitled to assure its voters, that independent candidates are truly independent and are neither part of a political party's national machinery nor beholden to that party," Andrew Schultz, an Albuquerque lawyer, said in written arguments.
Nader and his supporters also had a lawsuit pending in federal court if the appeal to the Supreme Court failed to get him on the ballot.
Three Supreme Court justices disqualified themselves from the case. Justices Edward Chavez and Richard Bosson are seeking re-election, and Justice Pamela Minzner did not participate because one lawyer in the case works in an Albuquerque firm with her husband.
Court of Appeals Judges James Wechsler and Michael Bustamante and District Judge Thomas G. Fitch of Socorro heard the appeal along with Chief Justice Petra Maes and Justice Patricio Serna.