South Carolina GOP Unilaterally Canceled Primary in Violation of Party and State Rules
(Columbia, South Carolina) – Today, Republican voters filed a lawsuit alleging that the Executive Committee of the South Carolina Republican Party illegally canceled its presidential primary in violation of its own rules and state law. The plaintiffs include former South Carolina Member of Congress Bob Inglis of Greenville County and Frank Heindel of Charleston County. The plaintiffs are represented by Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan nonprofit, and Sowell & DuRant, a South Carolina litigation firm.
On September 7, the South Carolina GOP’s Executive Committee voted to cancel the 2020 Republican presidential primary. The vote was not unanimous, and faced immediate rebuke from within the Republican Party. According to the South Carolina Republican Party’s rules, the state party can only change its nomination process at a state convention. The state party did not change the process at the 2019 state convention. Accordingly, as observers have noted, canceling the primary through an executive committee vote violates Republican Party rules. It also violates South Carolina election law, which requires political parties to obey their own rules.
In 2007 and again in 2013, the Republican-led South Carolina legislature changed state election law, making it harder to cancel primaries. Analogies to past instances of primary cancellation in 1984 and 2004—when Presidents Reagan and Bush were running—are flawed both because the law was entirely different and because the incumbent presidents faced no opposition in South Carolina.
In a 2014 party resolution, the South Carolina GOP recognized the value of its presidential primary, stating that “anything other than a fair and legitimate primary where state party staff and officers avoid even the appearance of intervention could irrevocably damage the integrity of our primary process and inadvertently affect our ‘First in the South’ presidential preference status.”
Former Rep. Bob Inglis said:
“I’m a life-long Republican, who has served as both an elected member of the House of Representatives as well as a party official. I’m participating in this lawsuit because the cancelation of the primary by a small handful of party insiders denied me—and every other South Carolina Republican—our voice in defining what the Republican Party is and who it supports. I’m fighting for all of us to get our voices back.”
Mr. Heindel said:
“Our first-in-the-South primary gives South Carolina Republicans an incredible voice in selecting our party’s presidential candidate. The Executive Committee’s unlawful decision to cancel the primary deprives me and my fellow Republicans of the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. We are asking the courts to intervene, to ensure that the backroom dealings of a small group of party insiders cannot disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.”
Soren Dayton from Protect Democracy said:
“When the South Carolina Republican Party’s Executive Committee voted to deprive Republican voters of the opportunity to help select the presidential candidate of their choice, it did so in violation of its own rules, South Carolina election law, and the principles of democracy.”
Cameron Kistler from Protect Democracy said:
“The Executive Committee’s decision to cancel the primary is both illegal and deeply un-American. We don’t cancel elections whenever one candidate is ahead of their rivals in the polls months ahead of an election. After all, if we did, Hillary Clinton—and not Donald Trump—would currently be President.”
Protect Democracy is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing American democracy from declining into a more authoritarian form of government.
Sowell & DuRant is a first tier Columbia litigation firm composed of partners Biff Sowell and Bess DuRant. These lawyers have distinguished themselves in matters involving federal and state election, constitutional, and statutory issues.
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This is a project of United to Protect Democracy.