A federal judge in Denver said Monday he plans to issue a ruling “soon” on a lawsuit filed by U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in an attempt to get his name on the Republican primary ballot.
U.S. District Court Judge Philip Brimmer listened to several hours of testimony and arguments Monday morning as an attorney representing the six-term Republican incumbent sparred with an attorney for the state over the constitutionality of a Colorado law.
Lamborn is asking the judge for an injunction requiring Secretary of State Wayne Williams to put his name on the primary ballot after the Colorado Supreme Court ruled a week ago that Lamborn didn’t collected enough valid voter signatures on his nominating petitions because one of his circulators wasn’t a state resident.
That requirement has been on the books for at least 40 years, but Lamborn argued it should be overturned because it restricts the First Amendment rights of his supporters to help him get on the ballot and vote for him in a primary.
“It’s in the judge’s hands, and we’re hoping and praying that justice is done and I’m restored to the ballot,” Lamborn told reporters outside the courtroom after the hearing was adjourned.
“What should be important is the validity of each individual signature, not the credentials of the person holding the clipboard,” he added.
Major party candidates in Colorado can get on the ballot two ways: by getting the support of 30 percent of delegates at party assemblies or by turning in signatures — for congressional candidates, 1,000 are required — from registered voters who meet certain criteria. For petitioning candidates, Colorado law also sets a requirements for signature gatherers, such as being state residents.
Lamborn submitted 1,783 signatures to the secretary of state’s office, which determined that 1,269 were valid. But after a group of five El Paso County Republicans challenged Lamborn’s petitions, a Denver District Court judge invalidated 58 signatures, and then the Supreme Court tossed another 269, leaving the congressman 58 signatures short.
Until a week ago, Lamborn was arguing that he had complied with the law, but after Colorado’s high court ordered Lamborn off the ballot, he filed the separate federal lawsuit against Williams, who must certify the ballot by Wednesday. (That deadline was extended five days by another judge because of another candidate’s pending lawsuit.)
In court, Matthew Grove, an attorney with the Colorado attorney general’s office representing Williams, made a case that the residency requirement was a key part of ensuring election integrity and argued against putting Lamborn back on the ballot pending further legal wrangling, saying it wouldn’t be fair to treat the Republican congressman differently than those already on the ballot.
“There is no evidence here the (Lamborn) campaign was adversely impacted in any way by the residency requirement,” Grove said, pointing out that dozens of other candidates “complied with the law” when they circulated petitions.
“Courts should do their best not to go in and change the rules immediately before an election or, in this case, after the game has been played,” Grove said.
What’s more, he said at another point, Lamborn only had to collect 1,000 signatures from the roughly 200,000 registered Republicans in the 5th Congressional District — a fraction of 1 percent — and could have hired circulators from among Colorado’s more than 1 million Republicans.
Much of the discussion centered on the timing of Lamborn’s lawsuit and how that falls within a legal doctrine governing constitutional challenges — basically, why did he wait until the last possible minute to ask a court to protect endangered constitutional rights?
“This residency requirement has been, for lack of a better term, low-hanging fruit for years, for decades,” Grove said and then asked rhetorically if Lamborn had “slumber[ed] on his rights.”
Lamborn’s attorney, Ryan Call, said it was not until the Colorado Supreme Court issued its ruling that the Lamborn supporters’ rights were threatened.
Brimmer wanted to know how an adverse ruling elevated it to a constitutional matter. Wasn’t it true, the judge asked, that in every challenge “something bad happened to the candidate? That’s why they’re in court.”
Meanwhile, a group of Republicans whose attempt to intervene in the lawsuit was denied by Brimmer over the weekend — including state Sen. Owen Hill, one of Lamborn’s primary challengers, and nine GOP legislators — filed a motion with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals asking for an emergency ruling to allow their participation in the case.
Late Monday, a three-judge panel of appellate judges ruled against the proposed intervenors, saying they failed to demonstrate that it was warranted.
In a strongly worded statement issued while the hearing in Judge Brimmer’s courtroom was underway, a spokesman for the Republicans described why they want to join the lawsuit:
“The secretary (Williams) will not adequately represent the interests of the intervenors. Nor will he offer the robust defense of Colorado law that is necessary,” Kyle Fisk said. “The secretary’s office has admitted they philosophically agree with Mr. Lamborn and have already stated that their objective is to help candidates make the ballot; apparently, this is even true when a campaign has broken the law.”
Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert told Colorado Politics on Friday that the opposite was true. Despite believing that ballot access is a virtue, she said, her office planned to defend the law without pulling any punches.
“How someone philosophically lands on something has never had anything to do with how we defend the law,” she said.
Staiert maintained that her office would determine whether or not to appeal the case after the ruling. “We’ve always done that,” she added.