Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Danville.
Jackson L. Kiser, Senior District Judge. (CA-94-47-D)
Before LUTTIG, Circuit Judge, COPENHAVER, United States District Judge for the Southern District of West Virginia, sitting by designation, and MICHAEL, Senior United States District Judge for the Western District of Virginia, sitting by designation.
Reversed and remanded by published opinion. Judge Luttig wrote the opinion, in which Judge Copenhaver and Senior Judge Michael joined.
Plaintiff-appellee George R. Wood sought to have his name included on the Commonwealth's November 1994 general election ballot as an independent candidate for the United States Senate. Because Wood had failed to comply with Virginia's filing deadline for independent candidates, see Va. Code Ann. Section(s) 24.2-506, 24.2-507(1), the Commonwealth refused to place his name on the ballot. Wood thereafter brought this suit, alleging that the Commonwealth's filing deadline violated his rights and those of his supporters under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States. The district court granted summary judgment in Wood's favor, holding that the Commonwealth's filing deadline for independent candidates for the United States Senate does not, as Wood alleges, violate both the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Because the district court erred in concluding that its disposition of this case is controlled by our decision in Cromer v. South Carolina, 917 F.2d 819 (4th Cir. 1990), and, as a result, failed to analyze Wood's claim under the test set forth by the Supreme Court in Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983), we reverse and remand to the district court for further proceedings.
Virginia law requires that all candidates for public office, with the exception of Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, see Va. Code Ann. Section(s) 24.2-543, file declarations of candidacy and nominating petitions signed by one-half of one percent of registered Virginia voters by at least 150 days before the general election, see Va. Code
Ann. Section(s) 24.2-506, 507(1), 509, 510(1), 515, which is the day on which political parties must hold their party primaries, see Va. Code Ann. Section(s) 24.2-515. This 150 day filing deadline applies to independent and party candidates alike. Independent candidates therefore must file their declarations and petitions "by 7:00 p.m. on the second Tuesday in June" before the November election, Va. Code. Ann. Section(s) 507(1), which is 150 days before the general election. *fn1 And, while political parties are generally free to choose their candidates by party primary or otherwise, see Va. Code. Ann. Section(s) 24.2-509, the party candidates must file their declarations and petitions by at least 150 days prior to the general election. Indeed, parties that select their candidates through party primaries must require their candidates to submit their declarations and petitions 60 days before the party primary, see Va. Code Ann. Section(s) 24.2-522(A), which, in Virginia, is 210 days before the general election, see Va. Code. Ann. Section(s) 24.2-515 (requiring that party primaries must take place on the 150th day before the general election). Parties that select their candidates through means other than a party primary must complete their selection procedure by 150 days before the general election. See Va. Code. Ann. Section(s) 24.2-510(1).
In this case, there is no dispute that Wood, an independent candidate for the United States Senate, failed to comply with the Commonwealth's 150 day filing deadline. Instead, Wood challenges that deadline as unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, arguing that the deadline "unconstitutionally burdens the voting and associational rights of [him] and his supporters." Appellee's Br. at 1. *fn2 Before the district court, the Commonwealth advanced administrative convenience as the "sole justification" for the 150 day deadline, see J.A. at 126, contending that the 150 day deadline was "necessary to verify the requisite signatures on the petition and to print the ballots for the general election," J.A. at 120. The district court, believing that its decision was "controlled" by our opinion in Cromer, rejected the Commonwealth's rationale, holding that, under Cromer, where a state's only asserted justification for a deadline is administrative convenience, a deadline longer than ninety days prior to the general election is per se unconstitutional.
In Anderson, the Supreme Court fashioned the test that must be applied when determining whether a state's ballot access laws pass constitutional muster. Specifically, in the course of striking down Ohio's 229 day filing deadline for independent presidential candidates, which required those candidates to submit statements of candidacy and nominating petitions 229 days before the general election and 75 days before the party primaries, see 460 U.S. at 783 n.1, as violative of the "voting and ...