Mississippi Supreme Court Rules Against Chris McDaniel In Dispute Over GOP Senate Primary
The most bizarre race of 2014 is finally over.
Of all the races in the 2014 midterm cycle, none have been stranger than the Republican Senate primary in Mississippi. The race started as one of many of the Tea Party backed challenges to a long-time incumbent Republican Senator, but it soon turned strange when, just weeks before the primary, a political blogger who was a supporter of Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party back candidate challenging Senator Thad Cochran, was arrested in connection with a break-in at the nursing home where Cochran’s wife is being treated for dementia that quickly expanded into something of a conspiracy when three members of a Mississippi Tea Party group were arrested in connection with the case. Eventually, in June, one of those three men would end up committing suicide in his home, but before that happened the election itself became the story. Cochran narrowly lost the first round of the primary, but the race headed to a runoff because McDaniel had failed to get more than 50% of the vote. After Cochran managed to win that runoff quite handily, McDaniel and his supporters descended into a summer long crusade to attempt to get the results overturned by asserting irregularities that they could never actually prove. For the most part, these allegations focused mostly on the fact that Cochran won partly by appealing to African-American voters who don’t typically vote in Republican primaries. As the summer went on, things just kept getting more bizarre in the Magnolia State and the accusations of voting irregularities continued to flow even though there was no evidence to support those claims. McDaniel’s campaign, meanwhile, kept saying that they would be filing some kind of legal action to challenge the outcome of the runoff, but didn’t take any action until early August, more than six weeks afterwards, when they filed a challenge with the state Republican Party that was quickly rejected. McDaniel responded by filing a lawsuit in state court, but that challenge was dismissed in September on the ground that McDaniel had waited too long to file his challenge. Late yesterday, the Mississippi Supreme Court dismissed McDaniel’s appeal of that ruling:
The state Supreme Court on Friday upheld the dismissal of Chris McDaniel’s lawsuit over his June GOP primary loss to incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran.
The court ruled four to two, upholding a lower court decision that McDaniel waited too long to file the challenge of his loss. Three justices did not participate.
McDaniel in statement said, “Republicans are still left wanting justice” by the decision and said he hopes “conservatives in Mississippi will view this decision as a driving factor to get involved in Republican politics.”
Neither McDaniel nor his lead attorney Mitch Tyner answered definitively on Friday whether the ruling will put end to his trying to overturn the election, but McDaniel said, “now is time to turn the page and work to enact true conservative change.” Tyner said that while he disagreed with the ruling, “we are glad the Supreme Court finally ruled and Mississippi conservatives can move forward into 2015.”
Cochran adviser Austin Barbour said: “I think all of Mississippi hopes this process is over. I think all Mississippians are ready to move past this whole episode we’ve been dealing with for months now.”
Cochran’s lawyers, Phil Abernethy and Mark Garriga of the Butler Snow Firm, issued a statement Friday saying McDaniel’s challenge was “baseless,” and “The will of the voters has now been validated by the Mississippi Supreme Court.”
Tyner has noted that McDaniel still hasn’t had his “day in court” on the merits of his challenge, but instead had it dismissed “on technicalities.”
Rick Hasan summarizes the Court’s opinion:
The Court’s opinion broke down 3-1-2, with 3 Justices not participating.
The plurality opinion held that it was bound by a 1959 case establishing a 20 day deadline for filing an election challenge. Although the legislature amended the statute since 1959, the plurality held that the legislature acted in light of this 1959 statute, and the deadline remains part of the statutory scheme.
A concurring Justice issued an opinion essentially reaching the view that this was a nonjusticiable political question to be decided by the political branches, not the courts.
The two dissenting Justices believed that the 1959 case was not binding on the courts, because the legislature made too many changes in the statutory scheme for it still to apply. Those justices would have sent the case back for further proceedings.
The outcome hear wasn’t surprising, of course. While I can’t say that I spent an inordinate amount of time reading up on the legal issues in the case, the trial court’s opinion, which essentially found that there was a limitations period of 20 days after an election within which a challenge could be filed that was established by a 1959 Supreme Court case which had never been overruled and which subsequent revisions to the statutes by the state legislature never explicitly overruled either, seemed fairly solid to me. Moreover, although neither court reached the merits of the case thanks to the ruling that McDaniel had filed the lawsuit too late, the factual and legal basis for McDaniel’s challenge was flimsy to say the very least. Even if the courts had reached the merits, he was going to lose anyway, and the closer that we got to Election Day, the less likely that it was that a court would step in and overturn the results of an election that had been over months ago and which showed no credible signs of having been tainted in the manner that McDaniel and his Tea Party supporters alleged.
As Hasan notes, although McDaniel is talking about an appeal, this is basically the end of the road for him. An appeal from the Mississippi Supreme Court would go to the U.S. Supreme Court, and that body is highly unlikely to get involved in this dispute in any manner whether that means imposing some kind of stay to stop the election on November 4th or to accept an appeal. This is especially true given the fact that the lawsuit filed by McDaniel raises matters that are purely governed by state law, and the Justices don’t have jurisdiction over such cases unless there is some credible Federal Law issue involved that doesn’t exist here. Potentially, I suppose, McDaniel could try to seek relief in Federal Court if his legal team can come up with a legal basis for such an action, but again a U.S. District Court is unlikely to entertain such a lawsuit and even less likely to impose any kind of stay on an election that Cochran will win rather easily. At this point, then, McDaniel should probably just give up and take his place among the others that the Tea Party has claimed as supposed martyrs such as Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, and Herman Cain. Perhaps he can even get a Fox News or talk radio deal out of this whole thing. In fact, perhaps that’s what he’s been angling for all along. In any case, we’ve finally reached the end of this bizarre saga.