September 27, 2004
The court has been willing to step into state election disputes, most notably the 2000 Bush v. Gore ruling that ended Florida recounts and effectively called the election for George Bush.
An announcement is expected soon on a request by Nader supporters for an emergency stay that would require Oregon to stop printing ballots that lack Nader's name.
The high court has been able to take up cases and rule quickly before elections. In 1968, it took the court about a week to hear arguments and rule that Ohio had to allow former Alabama Gov. George Wallace on that state's presidential ballot. Four years ago, the court heard two disputes arising out of the Florida presidential race deadlock. The decisive case was settled in less than a week.
Richard Hasen, an election law expert at Loyola Law School, said that after 2000, "many people predicted the court would be a little gun-shy, but the court's been remarkably aggressive in the election area."
Over the past year, the court has considered campaign spending restrictions and political map drawing.
"The court wants to make sure a candidate with a serious chance of success is not kept off the ballot," while giving states discretion to set their own candidate rules, he said, adding that Nader has a tough case to make.
Four years ago, Nader received 5 percent of the vote in Oregon as the Green Party nominee. In recent polls he has had the support of fewer than 2 percent of Oregon voters.
The high court has a process for emergency appeals, often used before elections. One justice is assigned to handle the paperwork and can act alone or ask all nine justices to participate.
Two weeks ago, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist on his own refused to let a Wisconsin anti-abortion group run political ads this fall that criticize Democrats. The group, Wisconsin Right to Life, was trying to get around a campaign finance law's restrictions on campaign season political commercials.
In 2002, the court declined to intervene in a last-minute election dispute from New Jersey, where Republican Senate candidate Douglas Forrester challenged a candidate switch that put him against a tougher Democratic opponent. The opponent, Frank Lautenberg, won the seat.
In Nader's case, the Oregon Supreme Court sided with state election officials who found flawed petitions left him short of the 15,306 signatures needed to put him on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Nader's attorney, Daniel Meek of Portland, Ore., said the petition rules were unclear.
"If independent candidates must be mind readers in order to comply with `unwritten rules' adopted by government officials, there is no practical way for them to run for office," Meek said in a Supreme Court filing.
Oregon residents vote by mail, and counties have already started printing 1.9 million ballots.
Mary Williams, Oregon's solicitor general, said Nader can still get write-in votes. "Oregon's election process will be severely disrupted if a stay is ordered," she wrote in papers filed with the court last weekend.
The Nader case has been assigned to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who handles appeals from western states. If she grants the stay, the state will have to put Nader on its ballot. He is on the ballot in more than 30 states and is suing for ballot access in several others.
The outcome of this case was not expected to affect his other challenges.
On the Net:
Nader campaign: http://www.votenader.org
Supreme Court case docket: http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/04a242.htm