Today several members of the Prairie Green Party appeared in County Circuit Court (case #03MR00756) to argue that the Green Party be a "recognized party" for ballot access and primary purposes in Champaign County. Their argument was based on the fact that Carl Estabrook's campaign for US Congress in 2002 received over 5% (he received 8%) of the vote within Champaign County. The plaintiffs were Al Weiss, John Paul Schmit, Jennifer Walling, and Ken Urban all of whom petitioned to appear on a Green Party primary ballot this spring.
Mark Sheldon's County Clerk's office argued that Articles 7 and 10 of the election code when read together require that the 5% of the vote required for recognized party status must come from a vote for an office in same governmental unit that the recognition is granted in. The Greens argued that in fact these two articles taken together complement each other to ensure maximum openness of the electoral process to parties that receive 5% of the vote within a political subdivision regardless of the office being sought by the candidate receiving 5% of the vote.
The Greens argued that not only is there reason to believe that the Legislature (on the assumption that they were acting rationally and constitutionally) intended the broader meaning but that if that is not the meaning of the legislation then there are Constitutional issues of equal protection and the right to vote rooted in the first amendment to be considered. Other parts of the articles in question (particularly the loyalty clause in Article 7), as well as other parts of the election code have already been found unconstitutional.
The judge said he needed to review the case and will issue an expedited judgement by Friday.
Court is always an interesting experience for me. I'm intrigued by the whole process. Since this was a general civil court the many cases that happened before the Greens case had nothing to do with election law. Every single one of them was regarding back rent and eviction. It was kind of tragic to see all these people being evicted over one or two months worth of rent. To see the judge asking these folks who had no lawyer "how they wanted to proceed" and watching them squirm as they had no options. There were several people who simply agreed to pay (the smart thing to do if you don't have a case against your landlord). There were a few who believed the landlord's request dollar amount to be in error and who asked for a trial (good to stand up for their rights but I hope they have a lawyer at the trial because the landlords sure did). Finally there were several who said they just wanted to pay, the judge said that didn't concern him all he wanted to know is if they wanted a trial or simply agreed to the claims of the landlords. These few asked for a a trial. I think that they thought "great this gives me another week to come up with the money or to move out before I get evicted". What I don't think they realized was that it would increase the legal fees they would be required to pay to the landlords for the plaintiff's lawyer. I wished I could go up and tell these folks, who were ready to pay their debt, that they were screwing themselves into paying more money.
Of note was the fact that of the dozen or more people that were being evicted this morning, every single one of them was Black. That seemed pretty odd to me. Indicative of some institutional racism among landlords? Would I have ever met the threat of eviction for being $385 behind on my rent?
During the Greens trial there was a total change of pace. Two lawyers and a lot of VERY technical questions about "common law construction" versus "constitutionality", whether "severability" applied because of the unconstitutional loyalty clause, whether we could assume that the legislature acted "rationally and constitutionally" and what could be solved through the "writ of mandamus" and what had to go back to remanded back to some electoral or administrative review board. I think I followed it all (I never heard of a "writ of mandamus" before but I assume from context that is the name of the order that the court issues with it's final judgement?) by listening very closely.
The judge really seemed to understand the Green Party's argument which seemed positive. The Green's lawyer walked a very impressive line between strong impassioned speech about the constitutional rights of the party members and very technical presentation of the case.