Greenville County Republican Executive Committee, The et al v. State of South Carolina, The et al
ORDER denying 56 Motion to Alter Judgment as set out. The court orders the parties to submit a joint proposed scheduling order for the court's consideration within ten (10) days of entry of this Order. Signed by Honorable J Michelle Childs on 7/18/11.(awil)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
The Greenville County Republican Party
Executive Committee, the South Carolina
Republican Party, Betty S. Poe, in
her official capacity as the Chairman of the
Greenville County Republican Party, and
William “Billy” Mitchell,
The State of South Carolina and John H.
Hudgens, III, in his official capacity as the )
Chairman of the South Carolina State
C.A. No. 6:10-cv-01407-JMC
OPINION AND ORDER
This case involves a challenge to multiple election laws of the State of South Carolina
brought by the Greenville County Republican Party Executive Committee, the South Carolina
Republican Party, Betty S. Poe,1 in her official capacity as the Chairman of the Greenville
County Republican Party, and William “Billy” Mitchell (“Plaintiffs”) against the State of South
Carolina and John H. Hudgens, III, in his official capacity as the Chairman of the South Carolina
State Election Commission (“Defendants”). Plaintiffs contend that the open primary system and
other laws placing restrictions on the candidate nomination process are unconstitutional because
they violate Plaintiffs’ right to freedom of association and equal protection as guaranteed by the
First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. Currently before the court is Plaintiffs’
Betty S. Poe was substituted for Patrick B. Haddon as a Plaintiff as a result of her election as the new Chairperson
of the Greenville County Republican Party. See Order granting Plaintiffs’ Motion to Substitute Party [Doc. 60].
Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment [Doc. 56]. The procedural history and facts concerning the
parties’ Motions for Summary Judgment are set forth in detail in the court’s order dated March
30, 2011, (“March Order”) and incorporated herein.
The court may alter or amend a judgment for three reasons: “(1) to accommodate an
intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or
(3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Pac. Ins. Co. v. Amer. Nat’l Fire
Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). The standard governing motions to reconsider is
strict. See Farkas v. Ellis, 783 F. Supp. 830, 832 (S.D.N.Y. 1992) (citing Ruiz v. Comm’r of
D.O.T. of City of N.Y., 687 F. Supp. 888, 890 (S.D.N.Y. 1988)). The moving party must advance
a legal basis for its motion beyond simply disagreeing with the court’s judgment in order to
prevail. See In re Worlds of Wonder Sec. Litig., 814 F. Supp. 850, 874 (N.D. Cal. 1993).
Moreover, a motion to reconsider may not be used to relitigate matters on which the court has
already ruled. See Centennial Broad., LLC v. Burns, 433 F. Supp. 2d 730, 733 (W.D. Va. 2006)
(quoting Pac. Ins. Co., 148 F.3d at 403).
In light of the memoranda from the parties concerning the scope of the court’s March
Order, the court grants Plaintiffs’ request for clarification of the rulings in the March Order.
Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment regarding the facial challenge to South Carolina’s
election statutes is denied. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment regarding the facial
challenge is granted. However, the court did not address Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenges to the
election statutes in its March Order based on the discussion during the March 10, 2011, hearing
on the motions for summary judgment.
Plaintiffs originally brought this action as a challenge to certain South Carolina election
statutes on their face and in their application. The parties participated in the required scheduling
conference and represented to the court that there would be minimal, if any, need for fact
witnesses and no need for expert witnesses. The parties further consented to and requested the
court enter an abbreviated scheduling order and, in fact, conducted no discovery prior to filing
Although both Plaintiffs and Defendants filed motions for summary
judgment which requested disposition as to all claims asserted by Plaintiffs, neither provided the
court with substantive arguments regarding Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge. Moreover, during
the hearing, Plaintiffs indicated that they were not seeking summary judgment as to their asapplied constitutional challenges to the election statutes at issue in the case. See Summary
Judgment Hearing Transcript, March 10, 2011, pp. 67:20-68:15; 97:22-98:1. Defendants did not
substantively argue in favor of disposition of Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge. Accordingly, the
court understood the parties to acknowledge the need for additional factual development of the
record concerning Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge. The record before the court contains only a
few affidavits which purport to give opinions as to South Carolina’s election statutes and the
effects of Plaintiffs’ request for relief. See Affidavit of Wayne Griffin [Doc. 21-1]; Exhibits to
Affidavit of Wayne Griffin [Doc. 21-2]; Affidavit of Patrick B. Haddon [Doc. 28-2]; Affidavit of
William "Billy" Mitchell [Doc. 28-3]; and Affidavit of Karen Floyd [Doc. 28-4]. However, none
of the litigants have presented the court with any empirical, statistical, or expert evidence which
would enable the court to properly evaluate Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenges. The court is
particularly concerned that the record is insufficient for any meaningful determination of (among
other issues) 1) whether the political parties represented by Plaintiffs are actually considering or
are likely to hold closed primaries, 2) whether the convention nomination statute’s voting
requirement poses an impossible hurdle to Plaintiffs’ use of the convention method of candidate
nomination, 3) the existence and impact of crossover voting, and 4) the practical effects of
operating open or closed primaries on the rights of political parties, voters and candidates.
Therefore, to resolve any confusion as to the court’s disposition of this issue, the court believes
issues of material fact remain as to Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge to the election statutes and
that it would be improper to dismiss such a challenge before the relevant facts and evidence are
presented to the court for appropriate consideration. See Idaho Republican Party v. Ysursa, 660
F. Supp. 2d 1195 (D. Idaho 2009) (declining to dispose of political party’s challenge to state
election laws on a motion for summary judgment where additional factual development of the
record was necessary). Accordingly, to the extent that Defendants sought summary judgment
with respect to Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge, the court denies their motion.
The court recognizes that Defendants make interesting arguments in support of their
request to dispose of the as-applied challenge to the election statutes, particularly on the issues of
ripeness and the absence of facts in the record as it currently stands to support Plaintiffs’ claims.
Although Defendants raise these arguments now, it is apparent from the record that none of the
parties to this case adequately considered or presented arguments regarding the disposition of
Plaintiffs’ as-applied claims in the summary judgment motions reviewed by the court in March.
Because there is no right more fundamental to our democracy than the right to freely elect our
representatives and because the issue at stake is so significant, the court declines to dispose of
Plaintiffs’ as-applied constitutional challenges without due consideration.
As to the facial challenges, the court denies Plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider its order
granting summary judgment to Defendants. Plaintiffs argue that the court misunderstood the
facts of the case and misapplied the law to some of the facts it understood. After a thorough
review of Plaintiffs’ claims and the March Order, the court is not persuaded that it either
misunderstood material facts or misapplied the law. The fact remains that the primary system is
not the only way in which Plaintiffs may nominate a candidate. Furthermore, there has been no
change in the controlling law, nor has new evidence been discovered. Plaintiffs have not
presented the court with any showing of a clear error in its March Order or demonstrated that
Plaintiffs will suffer a manifest injustice as a result of the March Order.
In the memorandum in support of their motion to reconsider, Plaintiffs contend that the
court misinterpreted the law in concluding that political parties may place a candidate on the
general election ballot by petition. Despite Plaintiffs’ arguments to the contrary, they have not
cited and the court cannot find anything within South Carolina’s election scheme that expressly
prohibits the use of petitions by political parties. See March Order, at 2. Accordingly, Plaintiffs
have failed to show a clear error of law on this point.
Plaintiffs also assert that the court erred in its assessment of the Greenville County
Republican Party’s role in partisan municipal primaries conducted in the City of Greenville.
Although Plaintiffs submitted an affidavit attesting to the fact that the Greenville County
Republican Party pays for and conducts the Republican municipal primary in the City of
Greenville, Plaintiffs failed to provide any basis upon which the court could find them entitled to
judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether such action is unconstitutional. Plaintiffs
did not cite any state statute that requires such action. In fact, Plaintiffs recognize in their
memorandum supporting their motion for reconsideration that state law does not require the
Greenville County Republican Party to conduct a partisan primary. Instead, state law provides
that, if a municipality does not adopt nonpartisan primary elections, nomination of candidates
may be made in accordance with state law. See S.C. Code Ann § 5-15-60. As discussed in the
court’s March Order, the nomination methods provided by state law are not unconstitutional on
their face. If the Greenville County Republican Party claims that it conducts a municipal party
primary pursuant to state law, it has alternative methods of nomination which obviate its facial
constitutional challenge. To the extent that Plaintiffs believe that they are required to conduct
and pay for municipal primary elections by the City of Greenville, they have failed to present the
court with any municipal law or action to review and have failed to bring an action naming the
relevant City of Greenville official against whom the court might have entered judgment.
Plaintiffs merely alleged that state law unconstitutionally limited their rights, and the court finds
no such limitations within the state laws related to municipal elections.
Plaintiffs further contend the court applied the wrong level of scrutiny in examining the
interests advanced by the State of South Carolina in the March Order. In the March Order, the
court determined that the challenged laws imposed only a minor burden upon Plaintiffs, if any.
In analyzing the three strongest interests advanced by Defendants, the court discussed the
legitimacy and importance of the interests. To avoid any further confusion, the court expressly
finds the three interests articulated by Defendants – protecting and preserving the integrity of the
nominating process, increasing voter participation, and ensuring administrative efficiency – to be
important interests for the reasons outlined in the March Order. The court further finds that,
given the alternative methods of candidate nomination and the uniform application of the
relevant statutes among the various political parties, the restrictions imposed by the statutes at
issue are reasonable and non-discriminatory.
Finally, Plaintiffs claim the court failed to specifically address the constitutionality of
several statutes. Plaintiffs simply list the series of statutes and advance the same arguments
raised in Plaintiffs’ original motion for each statute. Although the court did not address the
statutes in the manner presented by Plaintiffs, the court addressed the substance of the arguments
advanced by Plaintiffs concerning each of the statutes at issue in its discussion regarding
Plaintiffs’ challenge to the use of open primaries generally. The court determined that the
statutes, viewed individually and in the context of the entire legislative scheme, did not
unconstitutionally inhibit Plaintiffs’ freedom of association or violate the equal protection
guarantees of the Constitution. Plaintiffs would have the court determine the constitutionality of
each referenced statute or parts of a statute in isolation and without consideration of the statutory
scheme as a whole. Such an approach is clearly contrary to the law. See TNS Mills, Inc. v. S.C.
Dep't of Revenue, 331 S.C. 611, 620, 503 S.E.2d 471, 476 (1998) (“In construing statutory
language, the statute must be read as a whole, and sections which are part of the same general
statutory law must be construed together and each one given effect.”).
Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider the court’s March Order is denied.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs’ Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment [Doc. 56] is
Because the court recognizes the need for further development of the record to
adequately address Plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge to the statutes, the court will re-open
discovery for the purpose of obtaining the relevant information.
The court orders the parties to
submit a joint proposed scheduling order for the court’s consideration within ten (10) days of
entry of this Order.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/ J. Michelle Childs
United States District Judge
July 18, 2011
Greenville, South Carolina