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Florida Lawmakers Sue Dean, DNC

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.

--Michael D. Shear

By Washington Post editors  |  October 3, 2007; 6:47 PM ET
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I am so appreciative of Senator Nelson et al. for bringing this lawsuit on behalf of the four million-plus innocent, long-suffering Florida Democrats that Howard Dean and the DNC have self-destructively sought to disenfranchise in the nomination process, due to a primary date set by the Republican-controlled Florida legislature. We have already experienced being disenfranchised and having our votes not count in 2000, but at least then it was done by Katherine Harris and other Republican FOBs (friends of Bush). It REALLY hurts when your own party decides to disenfranchise you and simultaneously circle up the firing squad and attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the 2008 general election. What a singularly boneheaded, tone-deaf and ridiculously self-destructive decision it was that Dean and the DNC made! But more importantly, I believe Senator Nelson's suit is correct that it was also an illegal decision. Senator Nelson, the over four million registered Democrats in the important, diverse swing state of Florida thank you for bringing this lawsuit. We are with you, as is fairness, justice and the law.

Posted by: kaleidoscopeiyz | October 4, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Oh boy! The least bright light in the Senate and a censured former judge file suit agains their own party. "Koolaid" Paradise? It's no wonder the Florida Democrats are swamped by Republicans in Tallahassee.

The DNC offered a solution when the Florida Democrats got blindsided while not paying attention. Hold a non-binding primary then a binding caucus on or after February 5.

The courts should throw this suit out and give us all a break. In a year of a field of strong candidates, it makes numbers of us wonder if the Democrats are capable of governing not only in Florida, but in the national as a whole.

Posted by: travelgallery | October 4, 2007 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Nelson and Hastings are dead wrong in alleging " '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."

There is a already a 1981 Supreme Court ruling (Democratic Party of U.S. v. Wisconsin, 450 U.S. 107) that clearly states that the Democratic National Committee can make and enforce the rules on the delegate process. States do not have the right to tell the DNC (and RNC for that matter) how to make their rules.

The whole thing is a farce. Howard Dean is on far stronger legal ground than Nelson & Hastings and I expect the DNC will prevail once again. The Florida Democrats are the gang that couldn't shoot straight.

Posted by: cab91 | October 3, 2007 10:45 PM | Report abuse

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