For the first time since “Tea Party” candidates began making waves in this year’s congressional election campaign, a case has reached the Supreme Court to test the rights of such independent candidates.  Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., on Wednesday called for a response to the case by Virginia election officials by next Monday afternoon. The case is a challenge to a Virginia law that limits who may witness signatures on a nominating petition.

The candidate, Herb Lux of Rappahannock, Va., is seeking to run for a House seat in the state’s  Seventh District — a solid Republican district that includes parts of Richmond and its suburbs.  It is now represented by Republican Rep. Eric Cantor, who holds a GOP leadership position in the House.  Lux does not live in that District; rather, he lives in the First District, where the GOP tends to be strong, but Democratic candidates do fairly well.

Lux has been circulating nominating petitions himself in the Seventh District.  Doing so, he gathered more than the 1,000 that state law requires to get on the ballot; others have circulated and witnessed petitions for him, but they produced fewer responses..  However, state election officials refused to approve the majority, since Lux himself witnessed those signatures.   Under Virginia law, only a resident of the District where the candidate seeks to run can sign a nominating petition.  (A candidate for the House need not be a resident of the District in which he or she wants to run.)

In his stay application, (Lux v.Rodrigues, 10A298), the “Tea Party” candidate argues that the witness restriction violates his constitutional rights as a candidate, and violates the rights of those who support his candidacy.   U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson of Richmond refused in August to block enforcement of the witness requirement, finding that the issue was controlled by a precedent of the Fourth Circuit Court.  (The lower courts’ actions are compiled in the appendix to Lux’s application.)

Lux’s lawyers argued that there is a conflict in the federal appeals courts on the constitutional issue.

The Chief Justice has the application as Circuit Justice for the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia.  He may act on the matter alone, or share it with his colleagues.

Posted in Cases in the Pipeline, Featured