Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Canceled No More? South Carolina GOP Decision to Cancel Presidential Primary Challenged in Court

A lawsuit has been brought against the South Carolina Republican Party over its decision to cancel its 2020 presidential primary the Charleston Post and Courier reports. The issue is less directly about the decision itself than how the decision was made.

Under the rules of the South Carolina Republican Party, the party has the option of canceling a presidential primary as it has done a number of times in the past in uncompetitive Republican presidential nomination cycles involving an incumbent. It happened in 1992 and again in 2004. But the mechanism in place to cancel the primary follows a certain protocol, a protocol laid out in party rules and not seemingly followed during the decision-making process for 2020.

The prime actor charged with initiating the cancelation under the rules is the state convention. And in March of 2019, the South Carolina Republican state convention did not take up the issue of the presidential primary. Instead, it was the party's executive committee that made the move. Now, the executive committee is not without some power in the cancelation process, but is limited and actually runs in the opposite direction. As Rule 11 details, the cancelation decision is the domain of the state convention. But if the executive committee later decides that there is value in holding a presidential primary and not canceling, then the committee can reverse the decision by January 15 of a presidential election year.

The executive committee, then, has the power to reverse a cancelation, but not cancel the primary by itself. But that is exactly what the SCGOP executive committee did on September 7. And there is nothing in the rules covering that decision, nor one to reinstitute a primary once it has been canceled. The committee can only reverse the state convention system.

It was this conflict that drew the lawsuit from former South Carolina congressman, Bob Inglis and one other complainant. Whether the action reverses the SCGOP decision remains to be seen, but it is one that clearly strays from the process described in the state party rules, which also conflicts with state law prohibiting state parties from doing so.

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