John Rust petitions U.S. Supreme Court to evaluate Indiana’s party affiliation statute (2024)

John Rust, who earlier this year was denied access to Indiana’s GOP primary ballot, is appealing to the Supreme Court of the United States — seeking review of the Hoosier high court’s split March decision that stymied his candidacy.

Rust filed his 217-page petition with SCOTUS on Monday. In it, he argues that the justices should revisit Indiana’s “harsh ballot access laws” that keep him “and over 81% of all Hoosiers off of primary ballots.”

The petition posits Indiana’s ballot access laws are “uniquely harsh” and “do not serve any legitimate state interest,” but instead “cater to political party bosses, disenfranchising party members and voters.” Rust additionally asserts that the Supreme Court’s test for assessing ballot access issues “needs to be revisited and clarified.”

His request comes after the Indiana Election Division voted unanimously in March to block Rust’s Republican candidacy.

The basis for the state panel’s decision was an Indiana party affiliation law that prohibits candidates from running whose last two primary votes don’t match the party they wish to represent.

If the U.S. Supreme Court accepts the case, oral arguments would likely not be heard until early next year, according to Rust’s legal counsel. Even so, Rust said he expects a decision by this fall on whether the court will take it up.

“As I promised when the Indiana Supreme Court’s opinion was issued, I will continue to fight for ballot access for all constitutionally qualified Hoosiers,” Rust said in a statement. “At a time when hard working Americans feel their voices are not heard and their votes do not matter, this is a battle that has to be fought. I will never stop fighting for Hoosiers and all Americans.”

A final plea to the U.S. Supreme Court

Rust sought for months to challenge U.S. Rep. Jim Banks for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination, but a state law requires a candidate’s two most recent primary votes align with their preferred party — a bar Rust didn’t meet.

The Seymour egg farmer voted Republican in 2016 and Democrat in 2012. The law allows an exception, should the county’s party chair grant it. Jackson County Republican Party Chair Amanda Lowery elected not to do so in this case.

He sued to gain access to the Republican ballot, saying the measure barred the vast majority of Hoosiers from running under their preferred party.

Marion County Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Dietrick found in December that the two-primary requirement is unconstitutional. But the state appealed, and the Indiana Supreme Court expedited the case as a matter of “significant public interest.”

Both the Indiana Supreme Court and Indiana Election Commission separately found him ineligible in February rulings. The commission cited the law, which the Supreme Court upheld in a ruling — prompting Rust to file for a rehearing.

In his SCOTUS petition, Rust doubled down that the Indiana Supreme Court’s majority opinion requires him “to abandon his party affiliation to gain ballot access and denies voters choices on the primary ballot.” Because Indiana is a Republican supermajority state, “the primary election often is the election,” Rust emphasized in his filing.

He noted, too, that the majority of Hoosiers do not vote in primaries. The Indiana Supreme Court decision pointed to data from 2010 until 2022, for example, when the average turnout for primary elections in Indiana was approximately 15%

“As such, a requirement that a primary candidate needs to have voted in two elections, consecutively, and for the same party, severely limits candidates in Indiana primaries,” the SCOTUS petition said. “Limited choices and uncontested races leads to voters not participating. Indiana has created a cycle of voter/candidate disenfranchisem*nt.”

Indiana’s party affiliation statute also doesn’t allow for changes in party allegiance, Rust said. To access the ballot for either major party, a candidate is “locked into voting” in that party’s primaries for up to four years or more.

That means potential candidates “are not free to change their mind, make their voices heard on individual issues, or vote their consciences if doing so breaks party lines,” Rust said in the petition.

“This denies most Hoosiers freedom of association and the ability to vote effectively,” he continued.

To consider the barriers to the ballot in whole, Rust said the Supreme Court should also evaluate Indiana’s requirement that U.S. Senate hopefuls obtain 4,500 signatures — 500 from each of the nine congressional districts — in support of their candidacy.

“Indeed, the petitioning requirement alone precludes many candidacies,” he said in the petition. “Collecting ballot signatures is time consuming and expensive. And the affiliation statute here should be evaluated based on Indiana’s entire ballot access scheme, including taking the petitioning requirement into account.”

What comes next?

Rust — who maintains the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision “is in error” – has long vowed to appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Because ballots were already printed for the May primary and early voting was underway, Rust’s options were otherwise limited.

Rust previously told the Indiana Capital Chronicle that although he “may” run for office again in the future, he’s opted to “100% close” his Senate campaign.

He officially zeroed out his campaign accounts and filed to terminate his committee in May.

“ … Rust is not seeking to vindicate his right to run for office but rather his right to freely associate with the Republican party,” Rust and his legal counsel wrote in the petition. “He should not have to abandon his party affiliation to gain ballot access. And if he did so, he would face being banned by the Republican party …”

Banks was ultimately unopposed in the May primary and easily secured his party’s nomination in the race for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat. He’ll face Democrat Dr. Valerie McCray, a clinical psychologist, as well as Libertarian Andrew Horning in the November general election.

The Senate seat is being vacated by Republican Mike Braun, who secured the GOP nomination in Indiana’s gubernatorial race and will now face Democrat Jennifer McCormick and Libertarian Donald Rainwater in November.

John Rust petitions U.S. Supreme Court to evaluate Indiana’s party affiliation statute (2024)
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