Bloomberg News

Nevada Supreme Court Upholds Ruling on Open Dean Heller Seat

July 06, 2011

(Updates with excerpt from ruling in third paragraph.)

July 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Nevada Supreme Court upheld a ruling allowing state Republicans to nominate one candidate to represent the party in a special election to fill the House of Representatives seat vacated by U.S. Senator Dean Heller.

In May, a lower court judge ruled in favor of the Nevada Republican Party and barred Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat, from declaring a “free-for-all” election in which candidates could nominate themselves. The Supreme Court agreed and ruled in a 6-1 decision that although the state law is “ambiguous” deferring to Miller was not appropriate in this case.

“Reasonable policy arguments exist on both sides of the question of how a special election ballot should be populated,” the court said. “The policy choice is for the legislature, not the court. But in assessing the meaning of the election statutes involved in this appeal, we look at existing law and historical practice, which the legislature did not disavow.”

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval appointed Heller in April to succeed fellow Republican John Ensign in the U.S. Senate. Ensign, the subject of a Senate ethics inquiry stemming from an extramarital affair, resigned in May. A special election is scheduled for Sept. 13 for the district that encompasses almost the entire state outside of Las Vegas and that city’s suburbs.

Central Committees

Nevada has equated a vacancy in office with a vacancy in a major party nomination since at least 1954 and have historically turned to the major political parties’ central committees to designate their candidates of choice, the Supreme Court panel said in its ruling.

If legislation enacted in 2003 to fill vacancies in the House in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks meant to abandon long-held practices, it would have done so “explicitly,” the court said.

“Particularly given that the self-nominating ‘free for all” or “ballot royale” approach is unusual and has not been adopted federally,” the court said.

Miller called the court’s ruling “well-reasoned.”

“There has been much discussion about the lack of legislative history and the perceived ambiguity in the law that led to my interpretation clarifying how to conduct a special election in these circumstances,” Miller said in a statement posted to his Web site yesterday. “I fully respect the Supreme Court’s decision and will conduct the special election accordingly.”

The decision sets the stage for a September race between Republican Mark Amodei, a former state senator, and Democratic State Treasurer Kate Marshall, the Las Vegas Sun reported yesterday.

The case is Nevada State Democratic Party et al v. Nevada Republican Party et al, No. 58404, Supreme Court of the State of Nevada.

--With assistance from Jonathan D. Salant in Washington. Editors: David E. Rovella, Mary Romano

To contact the reporter on this story: Sophia Pearson in Wilmington at spearson3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.


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