The Colorado Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to consider an appeal filed by the state Republican Party that sought to reverse a lower court ruling the GOP argued could flood the courts with political disputes.
The announcement lets a lower court decision stand, leaving state Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, as the lone candidate on the Republican Senate District 10 primary ballot.
"We’re gratified that the Supreme Court upheld Colorado law and the votes of El Paso County’s grassroots Republicans," said Liston's attorney, Colorado Springs Councilman Wayne Williams, a former Colorado secretary of state, in a statement.
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, who doubles as the party's state chairman, told Colorado Politics that the decision will lead to the courts being overwhelmed by "purely political fights," instead of the political parties resolving internal disputes, like they have for more than a century.
A Denver District Court judge ruling on Monday blocked the Colorado Republican Party from forcing a local GOP official to add a second candidate to the Senate District 10 primary ballot, saying that doing so would violate state law.
The dispute arose after top-level committees of the state GOP decided David Stiver, a veteran party activist, wasn't treated fairly when he ran for a spot in the Senate District 10 primary in the district's assembly on March 22.
Delegates to the assembly, held online to comply with restrictions on public gatherings meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus, wound up designating Liston as the sole Republican running for the open seat, which covers north-central Colorado Springs and is represented by term-limited state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.
After Stiver and his allies complained about the proceedings to the state GOP, the party's top governing bodies decided that the district's chairman, Eli Bremer, had to submit official paperwork to the Secretary of State's Office listing both Liston and Stiver as candidates in the June 30 primary.
But Bremer refused, insisting the party couldn't require him to file a document swearing that Stiver received at least 30% of assembly delegates, when he didn't.
According to court documents, Liston received 75% of the vote, Stiver got 24% and 1% abstained — though the state Republicans' executive and central committees decided that the "district assembly and designation election were irregular to the point of undermining confidence in the election results," the GOP argued in its appeal.
The case decided Monday involved Karl Schneider, the district's vice chairman, asking the court to prevent Bremer from adding Stiver to the ballot.
In an 11-page decision, Denver District Court Chief Judge Michael A. Martinez agreed with Schneider, ruling that the statutory requirement that a candidate achieve 30% support can't be set aside to satisfy the state GOP's attempt to provide an "equitable remedy" for Stiver.
"While the Court is cognizant of the alleged irregularities that occurred during the nominating assembly, the occurrence of those events, if any, do not take precedence over or preclude application" of the statute, Martinez wrote.
Schneider's attorney, former Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, cheered the ruling and the Supreme Court's decision to let it stand.
"The court made the right choice today," Gessler said in an email late Tuesday. "Under Colorado law, local voters get to choose their candidates. And those candidates need to show a minimum level of support."
Buck, a former district attorney, framed the decision differently, echoing the argument contained in the party's appeal: "For almost 120 years, Colorado law has wisely provided that disgruntled candidates in political party assemblies cannot bog down the state's courts."
GOP spokesman Joe Jackson on Tuesday said the party was "disappointed" with the high court's ruling and reiterated Buck's contention that the decision will inundate the courts with "purely political fights every two years."
Bremer, a former chairman of the El Paso County GOP, said the state party was really arguing it should have unfettered power.
"With no constraint in the law, the party could literally replace candidates at their will — they could do anything," he said. "There would be no legal way for them to be prevented from doing anything they wanted. That’s a lot of power in the hands of an organization that would then have no constraint over it."
Stiver told Colorado Politics he simply wanted state election officials to "honor the wishes of the Colorado GOP State Central Committee."
In an email, he wrote: "I followed the rules and guidelines. Pled my case before the Colorado GOP Executive Committee. Pled my case before the Colorado GOP State Central Committee, and that should be it. Apparently not."
Griswold faces a Thursday deadline to certify the primary ballot to county clerks. Mail ballots start going out to most state voters on June 9.