Politics | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

Fla. Activist Targets DNC Over Primary Mess

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) --

Activist Victor DiMaio asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta Thursday to rule that the Democratic National Committee disenfranchised Florida's Democratic voters by taking away the state's delegates when it defied the party by scheduling its primary before Feb. 5.

The party later decided to penalize Florida Democrats by restoring their delegates but only giving them half votes. The dispute was later settled and all delegates got full votes at the August convention.

But DiMaio and his supporters still want a court to determine whether the DNC had the right to take away the delegates.

The three-judge panel didn't immediately issue a ruling, but two of the judges said they weren't convinced the case was still valid. They peppered DiMaio attorney Michael Steinberg with questions about whether the case was moot seconds after he opened his arguments.

"It sounds to me like you have some convincing to do," U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Stanley Birch said after listening to the barrage of questions.

Steinberg, as well as his counterpart from the DNC, contended the case isn't moot - although they acknowledged another primary scheduling controversy is unlikely in 2012 if President-elect Obama is on the ticket.

"The baby's been born," said Steinberg, "but we still have to deal with the possibility that this can happen again."

The DNC, meanwhile, urged the court to rule that the party has the right to set its own rules - and that it can choose not to seat delegates who refuse to follow them.

"The DNC has the constitutionally protected right to establish its rules to pick delegates," said DNC attorney Joseph Sandler. "Even if the courts wanted to second-guess our policies ... how could they do it?"

The judges seemed reluctant to wade in.

"Are we going to dictate policy to the Democratic Party?" Birch asked Steinberg. "You're asking us to tell them how to make policy."

DiMaio first filed the lawsuit in August 2007, after Florida was stripped of its delegates for holding primaries before Feb. 5.

The 11th Circuit dismissed the lawsuit in March, ruling that he lacked standing because he had yet to vote in the primary when the challenge was filed. But the ruling gave DiMaio an opening to amend the complaint, which he did weeks later.

He said Thursday he is pressing the legal challenge because he wants to bring clarity to Florida voters who want their vote to count. He expects the case to be appealed to the Supreme Court regardless of the panel's decision.

"This will happen again," he said. "This train wreck could easily happen again."


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