In January, the Supreme Court, for the first time, ruled that Americans have the right to "create and develop new political parties." This could pave the wave to easier ballot access for third parties and their candidates.
In Norman v. Reed, the Court affirmed that the Harold Washington Party properly belonged on the Cook County, Illinois, ballot. The particular issues in the case have little application outside Illinois.
What does have wider significance, however, is the theory expounded by the opinion's author. Justice David Souter. Without dissent, the Court stated that citizens have a right to create new political parties and that if a state limits ballot access it must demonstrate "a corresponding interest sufficiently weighty to justify the limitation." And any severe restriction must be narrowly drawn and "advance a state interest of compelling importance."
Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, notes, "The 'create and develop' phrase suggests that there may be constitutional protection against all election laws which seriously impede the ability of a new party to survive and grow." Among the types of laws that Winger thinks are endangered: laws that force a party to submit separate petitions for each statewide candidate; laws that force a party to petition anew each year, even if it received a sizable number of votes in a recent election; and laws that prevent a party from having its label appear on the ballot.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Party On".