Judge rules against effort to keep Leef off of November ballot
The congressional bid of a River Forest physician received a boost recently from a federal judge's decision that Chicago's Board of Elections couldn't keep him off of the November ballot.
Judge Milton Shadur of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, in a ruling issued Aug. 2, sided with Chicago-area GOP officials who said Democrats were behind an effort to bump the Republican candidate, Jeffrey Leef, from the November ballot. Shadur was not impressed by the Board of Elections' reasons for wanting to conduct hearings about Leef's candidacy for Illinois' 7th Congressional District seat.
"In sum, the board has failed utterly to identify any logical compelling justification for its burdening of the GOP's First Amendment rights," Shadur wrote. "It is an understatement to say that the GOP is highly likely -- in fact, it is certain -- to prevail on its claim under that amendment."
Leef, a University of Chicago radiologist, announced his candidacy for Congress this past spring, telling the West Cook News that he is a physician by vocation and a politician by necessity, and that he was joining the race for two reasons. “No. 1, there’s a two-party system, and there’s no way that any elected position should go unopposed,” Leef told West Cook News. “And secondly, I’m a strong believer in term limits – one to two terms at the most.”
Leef said he conferred with local GOP leaders in March before entering the race against the Democrat incumbent, Rep. Danny Davis, who has represented the 7th Congressional District since 1997. Area Republican party officials, who ran no candidates during the March primary, formally selected Leef the following month, using methods defined by state law.
However, two ward committeemen, Sammy Tenuta and Frances Sapone, soon after Leef's candidacy was announced, complained to the Board of Elections that they'd not been invited to the meetings during which Leef's selection as the party's candidate was decided. The board accepted Tenuta and Sapone's challenge and took steps to remove Leef from the November ballot, court documents and published reports said.
Tenuta and Sapone won primaries for GOP commissioner for Chicago’s 39th and 29th Wards, respectively, but were disqualified because both had voted in another party’s primary within the past eight years. These disqualifications were in keeping of a GOP bylaws that had been amended only last year.
When the pair challenged Leef's candidacy and the Board of Elections looked like it might decide in their favor, Chicago-area GOP officials themselves objected, claiming Tenuta and Sapone were Democrats in the guise of Republicans. Party officials had added language specific to "carpetbagging" to its bylaws, something Shadur mentioned in his decision.
By contrast, the election board's case hadn't been solidly presented, the judge wrote in his decision. "The board provides no predicate whatever for the notion that allowing the GOP to determine eligibility criteria for its own party committee could lead to fraud and corruption," Shadur wrote. "To the contrary, the GOP added Section 3 for the specific (and entirely reasonable) purpose of preventing what it considered to be malicious interference by individuals who could be described as donkeys in elephants' clothing."
As for Tenuta and Sapone's claims that they should have been invited to the meetings where Leef's candidacy was decided upon, Shadur said they could not claim the same privileges as elected officials under Illinois law. "In Illinois, ward committeemen are not government officials," Shadur wrote.
Shadur granted the GOP's preliminary injunction.
"Here, the GOP has asserted violations of its First and Fourteenth Amendments' right to freedom of association and its Fourteenth Amendment right to due process," Shadur wrote. "As there is no dispute that the board acted under color of state law, this opinion will turn to the GOP's likelihood of success in proving that the board's hearing of Sapone's objection would violate the party's constitutional rights and that such violation would override any asserted countervailing considerations."