The Utah GOP and the First Amendment

March 1, 2018 § Leave a comment

ImaginFirst Amendmente the Utah Legislature passes a law allowing the Deseret News to assist in choosing leadership for The Salt Lake Tribune. The outrage would be immediate in the pages of the Tribune as their very competitor would be able to dictate the newspaper’s internal workings – a violation of their First Amendment right of free speech.

Free speech is one of the foundational principles of our Republic. In Utah, the First Amendment was one of the core reasons this state was founded.

Yet, The Tribune’s recent article criticizing the Utah Republican Party State Central Committee for attempting to protect its first amendment rights by requiring its members to follow party rules is apparently unacceptable.

Justice Antonin Scalia stated, “In no area is the political association’s right to exclude more important than in its candidate-selection process. That process often determines the party’s positions on significant public policy issues, and it is the nominee who is the party’s ambassador charged with winning the general electorate over to its views. The First Amendment reserves a special place, and accords a special protection, for that process…because the moment of choosing the party’s nominee is the crucial juncture at which the appeal to common principles may be translated into concerted action, and hence to political power.”

At its specially-called State Central Committee Meeting last week, almost 70% of elected Republican representatives from across the state, stated emphatically they wanted to protect their First Amendment rights.

Since 2015 Utah Republican candidates have been required to state whether they support our party platform and will follow our Constitution and Bylaws.  This bylaw had no enforcement mechanism.  The recently passed bylaw simply gives party members a way to ensure all candidates are following the party rules.  While the bylaw has been portrayed as a purity test, candidates are able to state they disagree with the party with no consequence from the party, except voters.

Just as we would not want the state dictating to a religion how it should choose its membership, or to a private club who it can have as its members, or to a newspaper who serves on its editorial board; all Utah political parties have the right to choose how they nominate their candidates.

Both Republican State Central Committee Members and State Delegates have the right to amend the party’s governing documents.  If Republicans choose to change how candidates are chosen, they have the ability and right to do so.

Contrary to some published reports, the bylaw will have no impact on any candidate who had declared their intent to gather signatures prior to the passage of the bylaw.  Therefore, the bylaw for 2018 only applies to the First and Second Congressional Districts, as of February 24th no candidate had filed an intent to gather signatures in either of the races.

The media betrays its sacred trust when it reports the bylaw was an attempt to remove Mitt Romney from the ballot. It’s simply not true. This new bylaw has been discussed by Utah Republicans ever since Judge Nuffer stated the party had a right to determine its membership.  Candidates who decide not to follow the party’s rules would simply forfeit their membership for the duration of the election cycle.

Chief Justice Tymkovich stated during Oral Arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals: “What you are saying is that candidates could unilaterally declare, so we could have a Bernie Sanders say, “I, in order to petition on the ballot of Republicans, I hereby declare, I am a Republican,” and get his name on the ballot? He could be a Republican In Name Only (RINO), and the Republican Party has no ability to say, “Hey, wait a minute, you’re not a Republican at all?”

Just as the State Central Committee followed all its rules in holding the special meeting, candidates should be expected to follow rules set forth by the party during the nominating process.  If a candidate doesn’t wish to associate with the Republican Party or any party for that matter, he or she can still gather signatures to appear on the general ballot and the threshold is even lower. (For example, an unaffiliated candidate for governor can appear on the November ballot with just 1,000 signatures while it requires 28,000 signatures for a Republican gubernatorial candidate to appear on the primary ballot.)

While the media stand to gain financially as SB54 requires candidates to raise and spend more money for campaigning, it is time for the Utah press to stand for the First Amendment.  If the Republican Party’s First Amendment Rights are taken away, which is a private organization like the Salt Lake Tribune, who will be next?

Don Guymon is a member of the Utah Republican Party Constitutional Defense Committee and a Executive Committee.  First Amendment


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