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Judge won't put off state's Jan. 29 primary
He rules it is too late to change the date.
Published January 4, 2008
TALLAHASSEE - A federal judge refused to delay Florida's Jan. 29 presidential primary Thursday, ruling it's too late to move the election back because ballots have been printed, polling places arranged and poll workers scheduled.
Activists from both major parties had sought a temporary injunction to push Florida's primary back at least to Feb. 5 as required by Democratic and Republican party rules - flaunted by the state's GOP-controlled Legislature.
The national parties have punished Florida by stripping the state of all Democratic delegates and half its Republican delegation to the national nominating conventions. Similar penalties have been imposed on Michigan, which is holding a Jan. 15 primary.
"The lawsuit comes too late," said U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle. "We are too close to the election. There would be substantial disruption."
Hinkle agreed in the next few months, though, to decide a constitutional challenge to a state law passed last year that moved Florida's primary date from March to January.
Gov. Charlie Crist, also a Republican, supported the early primary date. It's designed to give Florida more say in the nominating process. Nominations in both parties often have been decided before Florida voted in the past.
National party rules, though, bar all except four states - Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada - from holding primaries or caucuses before Feb. 5.
The lawsuit is the third one filed over the early primary.
Hinkle last month upheld the Democratic National Committee's right to remove Florida's delegates in a lawsuit by two of the state's leading Democratic politicians, Sen. Bill Nelson of Melbourne and Rep. Alcee Hastings of Miramar.
In Tampa three months ago, another federal judge had dismissed a similar lawsuit by a Democratic activist against the state and national Democratic parties.
The plaintiffs in the latest case included Jon Ausman, a Democratic national party committeeman from Tallahassee, who said he was not disappointed with Hinkle's decision.
"It does protect the tremendous investment of $18-million in the primary," Ausman said. "I'm actually very happy with the judge."
That's due to Hinkle's tough questioning of the state's lawyer on the constitutional issues, although whatever he eventually decides will have no effect until the 2012 election.
The plaintiffs contend Florida's law violates the First Amendment rights of the parties to free association and the voting rights of 8-million Floridians who will have diminished or no role in the nominating process.
Hinkle cited U.S. Supreme Court rulings in past primary cases involving conflicts of party rules and state laws as he questioned Jonathan Glogau, special counsel for the Florida Attorney General's Office.
"Party rules win every time, don't they?" Hinkle asked. "What was the Florida Legislature thinking?"
Glogau, representing Secretary of State Kurt Browning, argued the law doesn't require parties to accept the primary results. He pointed out the Democratic National Committee offered to pay for caucuses to select delegates at a later date, but the state party rejected that idea.
The law, though, says each party at the primary "shall ... elect one person to be the candidate for nomination," which implies no choice, argued plaintiffs' lawyer Jerry Traynham.
Ausman said he expects the case to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court.