Judge to Arizona Democrats: Your lawsuit against the No Labels Party is weak

No Labels prevailed in a lawsuit filed against it by the Arizona Democratic Party.
No Labels prevailed in a lawsuit filed against it by the Arizona Democratic Party.

Arizona Democrats lost round one in their bid to derail the No Labels Party.

It didn’t come as a big surprise.

Their lawsuit about whether Democratic Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes lawfully certified No Labels’ petitions to become a political party was weak sauce.

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge this week said technicalities cited by the Arizona Democratic Party were without merit.

Democrats split hairs. They were dismissed

Democrats argued the petitions were invalid because the description of signers seeking to form the new political party did not follow the statute’s language verbatim.

They also argued that the affidavits on the petitions were signed before all the signatures had been collected.

They would have a (semi) leg to stand on if the petitions were citizen-led initiatives, which must follow a more rigorous “strict compliance” standard.

But the petitions to form a new political party go by the more lenient “substantial compliance” in which technical or minor errors are not fatal.

Plus, state law spells out that initiative petitions must be signed in the presence of the affiant, which means an affidavit cannot be filed until the signatures have been collected.

No such rule binds affiants of new party petitions.

Judge opens door for another challenge

The argument over the petitions’ language regarding the signers proved equally lacking. The phrasing used in the petitions and that found in the statute amounted to a distinction without differences.

The judge noted that even the complaint itself does not allege that anyone was confused or misled by the petitions. The request that “signers of the attached petitions be recognized as a new political party” is unquestionably clear.

In her ruling, Judge Kathleen Cooper does open the door to another legal challenge:

That the petition sheets falsely told voters that No Labels would participate in the Arizona primary.

The party notified the Secretary of State’s Office in June, after this lawsuit was filed, that it would not participate in the primary.

That allows it to avoid registering as a political party committee and filing campaign finance reports in Arizona.

The judge gave the Democratic Party until Sept. 11 to file an amended complaint.

It remains unclear whether the Democrats will do so.

Reach Abe Kwok at akwok@azcentral.com. On X, formerly Twitter: @abekwok.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: No Labels Party wins first legal round against Arizona Democrats