CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - The Nevada Supreme Court sided with the
state Republican Party on Tuesday, ruling that major political
party leaders can choose their candidate to run for the state's
open U.S. House seat.
In a decision issued late in the day, justices in a 6-1 ruling
upheld a lower court order that rejected arguments by Democrats and
Secretary of State Ross Miller, who said the Sept. 13 special
election should be an open contest.
The ruling is seen as a boon to Mark Amodei, a former state
senator who was among 15 Republican contenders vying for the seat.
Republicans feared an unbridled ballot would splinter the
Republican vote and allow Democrats to claim the seat for the first
time since its creation in 1982.
Amodei was endorsed by the state GOP central committee.
Democrats have embraced state Treasurer Kate Marshall.
The ruling knocks eight Democrats and 14 Republicans off the
ballot, including retired Navy Cmdr. Kirk Lippold, who was skipper
of the USS Cole when it was attacked by terrorists in Yemen in
2000. Lippold was viewed as the most serious challenge to Amodei.
The election will fill the vacancy created by Republican Dean
Heller's appointment to the U.S. Senate.
Nevada has never held a special election, which has contributed
to confusion. While the Legislature passed a law in 2003 setting
timelines for when a special election would take place, the law
also directed the secretary of state - Heller at the time - to
adopt regulations on how it would be carried out.
Those regulations were never enacted, something the court
majority cited in its decision.
"In our view, these procedures, which are more extensive than
those accompanying the secretary's statutory authority to issue
interpretations of Nevada's election laws, could have provided a
more thorough review of the issues," the court said.
Under the law, Gov. Brian Sandoval could have scheduled the
election up to 180 days after Heller's resignation from the House.
Sept. 13 falls 127 days after his announcement that Heller would
join the Senate.
The court majority determined that while Nevada law is vague on
special elections, that statute must be read in conjunction with
general election laws that give political parties control to select
their nominee when primary elections are not held.
They said state law has always favored "a two-step process,"
where a person becomes a candidate, followed by placement on a
ballot as a party nominee.
While justices didn't agree with all the legal reasoning of
Carson City District Judge James Russell, they affirmed the
In his dissent, Justice Michael Cherry said "free-for-all
elections" can provide a "degree of separation for our elected
leaders from party insiders and narrow ideological activists."
He said while not judging the wisdom of that procedure, he would
defer to Miller as the state's chief election officer to interpret
The majority disagreed, concluding that if the 2003 Legislature
has intended a come-one-come-all approach, "it seems reasonable to conclude that it would have done so explicitly."
In a statement, Miller said the ruling was "a well-reasoned
He also noted the courts' discussions on the lack of legislative
history and ambiguity in the law.
"I fully respect the Supreme Court's decision and will conduct
the special election accordingly," Miller said.
State GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian said she was pleased with the ruling.
"The decision handed down today simply affirms our unwavering
position and finalizes an answer to our questions with the
secretary of state's unfortunate initial ballot rules," she said.
"Today's ruling moves us one step closer to preserving this
important seat, carrying our momentum into 2012 and turning Nevada
Wednesday was viewed as the deadline by which a decision was
needed to print ballots and otherwise prepare to hold the election
on the date set by the governor.