In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 4th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals has affirmed a district court’s ruling that the plaintiff’s lacked standing in their challenge to Virginia’s Incumbent Protection Act. The plaintiffs include the 24th Senate District Republican Committee, and former 24th Senate District candidate Dan Moxley.
The ruling relates specifically to whether the Republican Party of Virginia’s Plan of Organization defers to the Incumbent Protection Act’s empowerment of incumbent General Assembly members to pick their own method of renomination. The two judges in the majority, Judge Diaz and Judge Gregory, cited language in the Plan wherein a legislative district committee is given authority to determine a nomination method, but only where allowed by Virginia law they interpreted this to mean that the Republican Party of Virginia willingly ceded its authority to the state (and thus to the individual legislator) on this question.
The dissenting opinion came from Chief Judge William Traxler, who agreed with the Plaintiffs, and with the Republican Party of Virginia in its amicus curiae brief. Traxler wrote:
The majority affirms the dismissal of this case for lack of standing because it believes the contractual term “Virginia Law” includes Virginia statutes that are void for unconstitutionality. Because I believe that the phrase plainly does not encompass Virginia statutes that are invalid, and because the Supreme Court has construed nearly identical language to mean valid state law, I respectfully dissent.
Undergirding Judge Traxler’s dissenting opinion is the plainly obvious fact that the Incumbent Protection Act is unconstitutional in that it strips the Party of its right to free association, and does not give equal protection of the laws to all candidates seeking a particular office. The majority opinion does not examine that question.
Counsel for the plaintiffs have yet to announce whether they intend to seek an en banc appeal of this ruling before the whole of the 4th Circuit. If they do not, the issues appears to be dead, for now.
A copy of the opinion and dissenting opinion is embedded below.