Judge listens to arguments over SCGOP primary lawsuit

Updated: Oct. 18, 2019 at 7:07 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A few weeks after a lawsuit was filed in Richland County over the South Carolina Republican Party’s decision to cancel their presidential preference primary in 2020, Judge Jocelyn Newman listened to arguments from attorneys representing the plaintiffs and defendants in the case in a Richland County courtroom Friday morning.

The lawsuit was filed after the SCGOP’s executive committee voted to forgo the 2020 primary. The suit claims the party broke their own rules and violated state law by canceling the primary in this manner, rather than at the state convention.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina, along with a Lowcountry businessman, Frank Heindel, filed the lawsuit in Richland County along with the help of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Protect Democracy.

When this decision to forgo the primary was made in September, the SCGOP said there weren’t any legitimate primary challengers. They also said the cancellation will save taxpayers $1.2 million.

On Friday, lawyers representing Inglis and Heindel argued the cancellation of the presidential preference primary caused harm to the two men by not being able to vote in a primary.

"The party bosses continue to thumb their noses at the party's own rules and the laws of the state and chose not to have a primary," said Bess DuRant, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.

Lawyers representing the South Carolina Republican Party said they are not taking away anyone's right to vote since no primary was scheduled. They also claimed some of the statutes pointed out by the plaintiffs in court Friday do not apply to presidential preference primaries.

They also argued since there will be no presidential preference primary, the 50 delegates the SCGOP sends to the national convention to nominate a presidential candidate are unbound.

Unbound delegates can vote for any candidate at the convention. If a primary were to be held, some delegates would be required to vote for a certain candidate, according to party rules.

Butch Bowers, an attorney representing the defendants, said, instead of having to convince hundreds of thousands of people to vote for a candidate, Inglis and Heindel would only have to convince the 50 delegates to vote for a specific candidate.

"We actually made it easier for them to 'steer' the party in whatever direction they want. To me, that undermines their case completely. There is no harm," Bowers said.

Judge Newman asked both teams of lawyers to submit orders to her within the next 10 days. She is expected to come to a decision within the next few weeks.

Sources familiar with the case said whichever verdict is reached will most likely be appealed by the losing party. The case could then go to the South Carolina Supreme Court.

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