Federal court cancels GOP primary

The Island Now

A Manhattan federal court on Wednesday canceled the Oct. 6 Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District, officially setting a November matchup between GOP state Sen. Jack Martins and Democrat Tom Suozzi.

A panel of three judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned a lower federal court ruling last month ordering the primary between Martins and Philip Pidot.

The ruling ends Pidot’s upstart campaign and a court battle spanning more than four months that put the field of candidates for the North Shore district in flux.

“I am stunned, in all candor, at today’s Court of Appeals reversal that effectively ends any chance of that primary occurring — a primary between two equally validated candidates for the office,” Pidot said in a statement.

U.S. District Court Judge Frederick J. Scullin set the Oct. 6 primary in an Aug. 17 ruling and ordered the state Board of Elections to apply for an exemption to a federal law setting deadlines for mailing absentee ballots to overseas military voters.

Martins appealed to the Second Circuit after Scullin later rejected his request to delay the general election to Dec. 6, arguing only a month between the GOP primary and Nov. 8 general would disenfranchise military voters and disadvantage his campaign.

Pidot went to federal court after the state Supreme Court ruled June 24 that there was not enough time to put him on the ballot for the original June 28 primary. Martins supporters knocked him off the ballot in May, but the court later found he had enough petition signatures from Republican voters to qualify as a candidate.

“The Court of Appeals decision today confirms the New York State Supreme Court and the New York State Appellate Court decisions, including eight judges that our opponent was not entitled to a special primary,” Martins strategist E. O’Brien Murray said in a statement. “The court’s ruling confirms the state court’s decision should have been final.”

Wednesday’s ruling falls in line with nine other cases in which federal courts denied candidates’ request to get on the ballot after losing in state court, according to a Sept. 1 case study by the Federal Judicial Center.

It also renders moot the Federal Election Commission’s ruling last month that Martins could solicit donations for the October primary in addition to the June primary and the general eleciton.

In court filings, the state Board of Elections maintained that the general election should not be delayed, saying that move could reduce turnout by as many as 284,890 votes. But it asked the Second Circuit to cancel the primary because federal courts have no jurisdiction over election matters.

“The Second Circuit has long recognized that state forums are the appropriate place to litigate disputes about the mechanics of election administration,” lawyers for the board wrote in a court filing.

Martins’ lawyers agreed, but Pidot’s argued not holding a primary would deprive voters of “their right to cast a vote for a candidate to represent their interest in Congress.”

Pidot has cast Martins as a corrupt, liberal machine politician, while Martins’ campaign has called Pidot a “perennial fringe candidate” and a pawn for Democrats. The two continually blamed each other for protracting the legal process.

Martins’ request to delay the general drew the ire of Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive who beat four Democrats for his party’s nomination to replace Rep. Steve Israel in the 3rd District. Martins also forced Suozzi to end his court fight for a “Fix Washington” ballot line.

The two sparred this week over Suozzi’s first TV ad. Martins’ campaign alleged it contained a fabricated quote from a 2006 New York Times article, but Suozzi aides said it came from New York Magazine was just mistakenly misattributed. A corrected ad was re-sent for broadcast on Tuesday.

“Hopefully, Jack Martins is done wasting everyone’s time and money with his endless court battles and we can finally focus on issues that matter,” Suozzi campaign manager Mike Florio said in a statement.

By Noah Manskar

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