Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Supremes sing in unison on this

This in from the Wall Street Journal's law blog.

Of course here in Texas going to law school nobody drilled into our head any notions about the court system in new York.

“Party conventions, with their attendant ‘smoke-filled rooms’ and domination by party leaders, have long been an accepted manner of selecting party candidates… While a state may determine it is not desirable and replace it, it is not unconstitutional.”

They’re not the funniest or most polarizing words to ever come from Justice Scalia’s pen, but they couldn’t be clearer. They come from his opinion, representing a unanimous Court, that came down earlier today, New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez-Torres. Here’s the opinion and the NYT’s take.

The decision overturned both a federal district judge in Brooklyn and the Second Circuit, each of which had shot down New York State’s unique judicial convention system for nominating State Supreme Court Justices*. Under the system, in order to win a party’s nomination to the ballot, a candidate must first get the approval of his or her political party. The Court today ruled that prohibiting use of the convention system violated the First Amendment rights of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. “A political party has a First Amendment right to limit its membership as it wishes, and to choose a candidate-selection process that will in its view produce the nominee who best represents its political platform,” Justice Scalia wrote.

The justices rejected a lawsuit brought by Margarita Lopez Torres, a Brooklyn Surrogate Court judge who, as an elected Civil Court judge, tried unsuccessfully to get the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s backing to run for State Supreme Court.

Ted Olson at Gibson Dunn and Andrew Rossman at Akin Gump handled the argument for the Board of Elections. Retired Cravath partner F.A.O. Schwartz Jr. handled the argument for Lopez-Torres.

* We must had this explained to us a dozen times during our first week of law school (in Michigan), way back in 1993, that the highest court in New York is called the Court of Appeals, while trial courts go by the name Supreme Court. Before we knew the names of our professors or what a “tortfeasor” was, we had this little piece of (admittedly important) arcana drilled into our skulls.