Republican Party and The Fight for the 1st Amendment
Client: Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) and Frederick County Republican Committee (FCRC)
Our Role: Represented RPV and FCRC against plaintiffs Jay Marts and Dana Newcomb
Practice Area: Litigation
Industry: Political Party Laws and Election Law
First Amendment Rights
Mr. Marts and Mr. Newcomb are two former Republican Party members who lost their party membership due to their public advocacy against the GOP’s nominees. The plaintiffs filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleging that the Republican Party’s membership requirements violated their constitutional rights. The district court dismissed the case because political parties are not government entities and the Republican Party’s management of its own internal affairs did not constitute actionable government conduct but instead was an exercise of the GOP’s own fundamental right to freedom of association. Because the Republican Party’s actions were not government conduct, but instead were private activities protected by the First Amendment, the district court found that Mr. Marts and Mr. Newcomb had not properly alleged a constitutional violation.
In her ruling, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Dillon dismissed a lawsuit brought by two Republican Party members from Frederick County who claimed they were unlawfully prohibited from participating in party activities due to their advocacy against Republican candidates.
Plaintiffs Jay Marts and Dana Newcomb admitted that they had engaged in such advocacy, in violation of their previous pledges to support the Republican Party’s candidates and that the party’s rules allowed their membership privileges to be suspended. However, they argued that the Republican Party of Virginia and the Frederick County Republican Committee were not constitutionally permitted to exclude them from party activities because some of those activities included closed nominating processes. Judge Dillon dismissed their action. In so doing, she noted that the Supreme Court has recognized that a political party’s First Amendment right of freedom of association includes the right to exclude those who do not share its beliefs. Accordingly, Judge Dillon found that Marts and Newcomb had failed to allege a constitutional violation.
“Judge Dillon’s decision is notable because she upheld the First Amendment rights of the Republican Party—and in fact, all political parties—to manage their own internal affairs,” stated Cortland Putbrese, the lead DBL partner on this case.
First Amendment Rights Were Preserved
The plaintiffs then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, claiming that the district court erred in dismissing their suit. The Fourth Circuit disagreed and ruled in favor of the Republican Party.
“This is an important win. By affirming the lower court’s decision, the Fourth Circuit has implicitly upheld the First Amendment rights of the Republican Party—and in fact, all political parties—to manage their own internal affairs,” stated Cortland Putbrese.
Our firm has extensive experience in the area of counseling political parties and representing them in disputes, including litigation matters. In fact, our team includes a former general counsel of a major statewide political party. We are therefore uniquely situated to provide a political party or its constituent committee with the legal advice it needs.
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