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Florida Lawmakers Sue Dean, DNC

  Practice Focuses  -   POSTED: 2007/10/04 12:57

A federal lawsuit to be filed tomorrow by Florida lawmakers against Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean alleges that Dean and the national party are violating the equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by refusing to recognize the state's Jan. 29 presidential primary. In a draft of the lawsuit circulating among congressional aides and legal experts, Dean is accused of disenfranchising more than 4 million voters in a scheme that the lawsuit contends would also reduce minority voting. The DNC and the Florida Secretary of State are also named in the suit.

"The defendants have combined to create a Presidential primary election with a stunningly anti-democratic scenario - every one of the more than 4.25 million registered Democratic voters in Florida will be completely disenfranchised and their constitutional rights with respect to that election will be rendered meaningless," the suit alleges.

The suit is being filed by Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Alcee Hastings in response to the DNC's decision last month to disqualify all of Florida's delegates to next year's national party convention. A spokesman for Nelson declined to comment and said the senator will make a statement on Thursday.

Dean had pushed for the punishment because Florida violated the party's rule against holding presidential primaries before Feb. 5. Both parties are struggling to retain control of the primary calendar even as states attempt to become more relevant by holding their voting at the beginning of the process.

By punishing Florida, Dean hopes to stave off other defections from the approved calendar.

"Their primary essentially won't count, " Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean told a Florida newspaper in June. "Anybody who campaigns in Florida is ineligible for delegates."

The Democratic presidential candidates have responded by pledging not to campaign in states which break the party's rules, like Florida.

The lawsuit alleges that taking such a drastic action violates the Constitution and the law in several ways.

The suit says the decision imposes "geographic discrimination" that violates the equal rights provisions of the Constitution and effectively eliminates the free expression of speech by the state's residents on behalf of the candidates.
Also, the suit alleges that minority voters will be hurt because the Republican primary will go forward as usual, while the Democratic primary will not count.

"Minority members who are predominantly registered as Democratic voters, will suffer a disproportionate impact by virtue of the exclusion of Democratic voters," the suit alleges.

The suit asks the court for an injunction that would ban the DNC from going forward with their threatened punishment. In addition to legal arguments, the suit uses harsh language to accuse the DNC of violations.

"In the annals of modern politics, no national party has inflicted so devastating and sweeping a "geographic discrimination" upon an entire state's electorate consisting exclusively of members of its own party," the suit says.

A spokeswoman for the DNC declined to comment on the suit, saying they had not "been given the courtesy of seeing the claims" made against the national party.

"It's disappointing that after months of trying to resolve this situation, they have chosen this path," said spokeswoman Stacie Paxton.


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