March 17th, 2008
04:45 PM ET
10 years ago

Attorney: DNC violating Constitution

ATLANTA (CNN) - The Democratic National Committee is violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment by allowing only four states to hold caucuses or primaries before the first Tuesday in February, a Florida attorney argued Monday before a federal appeals court.

Attorney Michael Steinberg filed suit in August on behalf of Democratic Party activist Vincent Dimaio after the DNC said it would not seat Florida delegates at the national convention because the state party defied party rules and scheduled its primary for January 29.

A federal judge in Florida dismissed the lawsuit in October, but Dimaio appealed.

"You can't treat the citizens of some states differently than other states," Steinberg told reporters after the hearing. "What I tried to assert is that the DNC has the right to make rules ... but the rules have to be the same for all the states."

According to party rules, only Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire can schedule their primaries or caucuses prior to the first Tuesday in February. Steinberg argued that the 14th Amendment, which bars states from denying individuals equal protection under the law, should prohibit the DNC from creating rules that make the votes of the citizens of those four states "paramount to the rights of the voters in Florida."

Joe Sandler, attorney for the DNC, told the three-judge panel that the committee is a private entity and "is actually exercising its own constitutional right by not seating delegates."

"The point we were trying to make in court today is that it's up to the parties themselves to determine the best means of selecting delegates to the convention, and it's not really a matter for a court to resolve," he told reporters later.

Dimaio, who referred to himself as the "little guy" who speaks for Floridians, told reporters that it is unfair for only four states to be allowed to hold primaries or caucuses in January.

"If you go before February 5, you're basically screwed because you get no delegates," he said. "We've lost 210 delegates. We're the fourth largest state in the nation and we have zero delegates."

"I'm not asking for a penny, I'm not asking for a dime in this action," Dimaio said. "I'm just asking for my vote to count."

The appellate court is not expected to deliver a decision until next month. Steinberg, who is handling the case pro bono, said that if the ruling goes against Dimaio, he will appeal to the Supreme Court.

- CNN Correspondent Rusty Dornin

Filed under: Florida
soundoff (179 Responses)
  1. Jay

    I agree 100%. It's outrageous that a handful of states (especially the same states every time) can hold their vote earlier than the rest.

    On what basis did a judge actually dismiss that case?

    March 17, 2008 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  2. cathy

    so we have a REALLY SUPER TUESDAY and vote All of them the same day?

    March 17, 2008 05:12 pm at 5:12 pm |
  3. Bill

    The last time I checked, the DNC was not a state, and therefore, the equal protection clause doesn't apply. But, his point is a good one, he has misdirected his anger at the DNC, and his focus should be on the state officials that allowed this to happen. Again, they knew the rules and blatantly chose to ignore. They were told of the consequences and still could have changed the date, and did not do so. It is the same thing we tell our children: in life there are rules, and when you do not follow the rules, those rules have consequences. This really is not rocket science.

    March 17, 2008 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  4. Chuck in Oregon

    I wonder, is he a Clinton supporter? He has no real ground to stand on because 2.6 million democratic voters DID NOT vote because they were told their votes would not count. Florida completely aware of and the Florida political powers voted and accepted the DNC plan, then decided to do their own thing. This is the fault of the two states and their leadership.

    March 17, 2008 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  5. Brian

    Umm...the Democratic Party is not established, nor is it regulated, by the Constitution or any of its amendments. It is a private party and it can choose its candidates however it likes.

    I can start a political party on my own and if I want to choose the candidate based on who can throw a baseball farther, that's my right as the leader of the party.

    If the government takes over the two parties in terms of how they choose their candidates, it will be the end-all to the multi-party system in America as we know it. Soon there will be two "official" parties, regulated by laws and politicians, and it will be yet another step toward completely obliterating democracy in America.

    This is the most absurd thing I've read in a long, long time.

    March 17, 2008 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  6. Patrick Anthony Drake


    March 17, 2008 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  7. Chuck

    Hmm, think the conservative Supreme Court will let us know who's going to be the Democratic nominee in time for the general election in November?

    March 17, 2008 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  8. Yeswecan

    DNC may be a private entity, but it does use the public fund to have the primary election. Unless DNC refund all 50 states for its primary election cost, it is not a private matter at all.

    March 17, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  9. Debra

    Florida better get on with the revote. Obama is smaking his lips at being able to alter the results in florida. After all, if you are Obama, If you don't like ther results- try again. If you don't support this you are called a racist. .

    March 17, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  10. Jake, California

    Why didn't you speak out earlier when the ban was made...Are you supporting Hillary and now want an unfair advantage? We will re-run the election in Florida so stop hurting your head trying to settle things in court

    March 17, 2008 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  11. KayR

    The delegates should not be seated. The DNC gave them the rules, and all of the canidates knew the delegates would NOT be counted. If someone ends up with the short end of the stick, oh well.

    March 17, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  12. Independent Voter

    Uhhh, what about Texas. Hillary Clinton is trying her dead best to disenfranchise and overturn our caucus votes. That was after the Democratic Party's establishment made things almost impossible for us to conduct our caucuses. That sure does not sound like democracy at work to me!!!

    She cares so much for Florida and Michigan but not Texas...or just the part of Texas' vote she overwhelmingly lost.

    March 17, 2008 05:23 pm at 5:23 pm |
  13. woogie

    It is a party primary. It is not an election. The party gets to set the rules.

    There is no legal right to vote in a party primary.

    Another waste of the courts time.

    March 17, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  14. Jude

    Florida and MI...give up already alright!!! You didn't stick to the rules...therefore you lose your delegates. Easy as that. Do you not understand ENGLISH???

    March 17, 2008 05:24 pm at 5:24 pm |
  15. Brian, Buffalo NY

    To the politicians in Florida and Michigan,

    You broke the rules, you knew it was wrong and decided to take a chance anyway. You screwed the people of your state and if it wasn't for the Dem nominees being in such a tight race your states lack of delegates wouldn't even be an issue. Next time [Florida/Michigan], elect smarter representatives.

    March 17, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  16. Jesse

    The Democratic National Committee is NOT a government entity and is not subject to the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It can be most closely equated to a club, with a branch in each state. If the club makes rules that apply to the branches in every state, and one or two of those branches decides to break those rules, then the club is perfectly within its rights to suspend that branch.

    All that the 14th Amendment guarantees is the right to vote. On matters dealt with by the government, this cannot be legally denied. In a primary being held by a political party—which is not a government organization—it is up to the party to decide whose votes count, and if a state or a voter breaks the party's rules, then the party can and should act accordingly.

    March 17, 2008 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  17. doug

    Leave it to Florida, hey , probably a republican attorney who got the idea from Rush. How about those tax returns, kinkos is open 24 hours.

    March 17, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  18. Ben

    I smell a rat. It is election time and silly season of suprime court begins, any difference with hanging chads?

    March 17, 2008 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  19. Spirit of America

    Bravo! About time someone challenged the gross inequities of the rigged primary process. We either have equal protection and treatment of all citizens or we have hypocrisy instead of democracy. If the DNC is a private entity, as they argue in court, then why doesn't it pay entirely for its private elections? Fact is that the public is paying to hold these elections and the DNC is acting as an entity of the state supported in the primaries by elections fully paid by the taxpayer. Just seat the Florida and Michigan delegates as elected!

    March 17, 2008 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  20. joe

    Did Hillary have a party for superdelegates? This woman will do anything to win this election even if it will mean tearing the party down.
    Hey, I have a question,
    Must Hillary win?

    March 17, 2008 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  21. JO

    DNC is presiding over a train wreck in motion. Obama as a nominee is a gaurantee win for John Mccain in November,

    March 17, 2008 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  22. April in Texas

    Could they bring up the fact that the voters were told their votes wouldnt count and therefore many didnt actually go vote. Many went to vote mainly due to a property tax issue being voted on as well. Had the voters gone then were told the votes wouldnt count then I could see the problem.

    Obama 08

    March 17, 2008 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  23. Dani

    Personally, at this point, I don't care. I do believe that the rules were in place and both MI and FLA violated them. But do we honestly want to not seat these delegates? I'd rather see total election reform after all this is over. The caucus are undemocratic. Primaries are simple, one vote per person, in and out in a few minutes. Rotate the states as to when they can hold their primaries. Enough with NH and Iowa and the rest of them. In this case, being last may be key to who will be the nominee.

    March 17, 2008 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  24. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    Political parties have no business interfering with citizens' constitutionally guaranteed right to vote through their unelected leaders' rules and policies. Government can and should limit the parties' privately exercised powers when they disenfranchise voters.

    March 17, 2008 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |

    I have been waiting for this like alot of other people have, Clintons at work to get gain for themselves. The rules don't apply to them, they are "special" or so they think! They are above the rules, they knew what would happen last fall before the elections in FL and MI. So the Clintons are doing everything they can do at any angle they can just like this liar for hire is trying to do. If it's a fight they want, I say give it to them, The Clintons are losers and so is this idiot lawyer even when a judge threw it out last year, he ( this idiot lawyer) thinks he should change his mind (the judge) and make it so the Clintons can steal the elections like thieves in the night.

    If this judge has any smarts, he will throw it out again and tell the Clintons they aren't going to cheat their way into winning like Gore tried to do in 2000. If this is changed by this judge there are going to be lawsuits from now until eternity. Obama will win. 14th ammendment, haha!

    March 17, 2008 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8