Taxpayers are footing the bill for unnecessary litigation in regards to Libertarian Party and Constitution Party’s successful challenge of ballot access law

A successful challenge by the Libertarian Party and Constitution Party of South Dakota, and by four of their members, against South Dakota’s restrictions on the ability of third parties to place candidates on the ballot will cost the State more than $619,000 in legal expenses.

In a ruling issued Tuesday, Federal Judge Lawrence Piersol ordered the state to pay $612,045 in attorneys’ fees and $7,539.30 in legal costs. The American Civil Liberties Union, along with the Robins Kaplan law firm, litigated the case on behalf of the political parties and their members. Robins Kaplan announced that the money it was awarded will be donated to the ACLU.

In February, the U.S. District Court struck down a state ballot access law for newly-qualifying parties. The court found that the South Dakota requirements imposed a “severe burden” on the constitutional rights of the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, and their members by requiring that too many signatures be gathered by the State’s deadline, which was the last Tuesday in March, which required that these signatures be obtained during the harsh South Dakota winter. The ruling affirmed the argument that the state’s two-party legislature has made access to the ballot for dissenting voices uniquely difficult, and that these restrictions violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

“South Dakota’s restrictions for third political parties to access the ballot were clearly unconstitutional. The ACLU suggested that we settle this case almost immediately after it was filed, when there would have been, at most, a small claim to fees,” said Heather Smith, executive director of the ACLU of South Dakota. “But the state declined. Now, taxpayers are ultimately footing the bill because the state decided to defend ballot restrictions that were some of the harshest in the nation and clearly unnecessary.” 

The State has since enacted a new law making it much easier for third parties to place candidates on the ballot.