Judge Could Soon Order SC Republicans to Hold 2020 Primary

October 18, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON – A circuit court judge in South Carolina heard more than two hours of oral arguments Friday in a lawsuit challenging the state GOP executive committee’s vote last month to forgo a 2020 Republican presidential primary.

In the end, Circuit Judge Jocelyn Newman indicated her ruling will be handed down in a matter of weeks. If she does ultimately decide the case in favor of the plaintiffs, the state Republican primary will be held Feb. 29, 2020.

Drew McKissick, South Carolina’s GOP chairman has argued that given President Donald Trump’s incumbency and continued popularity among voters in the state, a primary is unnecessary.

He’s said to hold a contest anyway would waste an estimated $1.2 million in taxpayer funds just to confirm a foregone conclusion.

In addition, an attorney for the state party said Friday that the executive committee’s actions last month were not unusual. State Republicans also opted not to hold presidential primaries in 1984 and 2004, when Republican presidents were running for re-election, and the S.C. Democratic Party did the same in 1996 and 2012.

But earlier this month, former Rep. Bob Inglis and another Republican voter, Mount Pleasant businessman Frank Heindel, sued the state party over the decision, arguing it violated party rules and state election law.

In a statement, Inglis said, “I am asking the court to require that the South Carolina Republican Party Executive Committee follow its own rules and the law.

“A small handful of party insiders broke the law to deny me — and every other South Carolina Republican — our voice in picking our nominee for president,” he said.

A central question raised during Friday’s hearing was whether state voters have a right to participate in a presidential primary election?

“If we’re talking about a June primary or a general election, then absolutely, the right to vote is sacrosanct,” argued attorney Butch Bowers, who is representing the state party.

“Here, we have a [presidential preference primary],” Bowers said. “If a party decides they want to nominate by convention, they can do so. And if they do so, that means that voters don’t have the right to vote.”

Bowers and co-counsel, Robert Tyson, Jr., went on to argue voters have other ways to participate in the selection of Republican National Convention delegates, such as participating in county and precinct conventions to choose the delegates who ultimately get to attend the national party convention where a nominee is selected.

But attorney Bess Durant, who represented Inglis and Heindel, said she didn’t see how the selection of delegates could be considered “in the same category or even the realm of the right to vote.”

“This is not fair and this is not proper,” DuRant said of the GOP’s decision not to have a primary.

She also noted that party rules require officials to begin the process of canceling the primary two years before the actual contest.

Because it didn’t do that, Durant contends the GOP is bound by a provision of law that says parties wishing to hold a convention rather than a primary must obtain the support from both three-fourths of the attendees of its convention and from the majority of voters in that primary.

Lawyers for the GOP countered that state law — which focuses on changing from presidential primary to convention nomination — only applied if the party were to decide to participate in the primary.

Newman closed the hearing asking both sides to submit a proposed order to her within ten days.

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