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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Fla. Dems sue DNC



Florida's top congressional Democrats today sued the Democratic National Committee and DNC Chairman Howard Dean, saying the decision to strip Florida of its delegates in the presidential primary violates the Constitution as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"For the DNC to say to the fourth-largest continency of Democrats in the nation that their votes will not matter in next year's presidential primary is not only shocking and ironic, but we believe is illegal," Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Miramar, said at a U.S. Capitol press conference with Sen. Bill Nelson.

"I'm sorry, but tell me what is the issue in New Hampshire that's more important than the issues in Florida?"

The suit is being filed today in the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee by Miami attorney Kendall Coffey, who represented Democratic nominee Al Gore during the 2000 Florida presidential recount. He's handling the case for free.

The DNC stripped Florida of its delegates after the state Legislature moved Florida's presidential primary to Jan. 29, a week earlier than DNC rules allowed. That put Florida among the earliest approved primary states. After Florida Democrats refused to accept several alternatives, such as holding a non-binding vote on Jan. 29 followed by a convention or caucus, the DNC rules committee docked Florida its 210 delegates to the national convention.

Meanwhile, the leading Democratic candidates have signed a pledge, authored by the four earliest primary states, stating that they won't campaign in Florida until after the primary.

Nelson has been threatening to sue for weeks, and legal scholars have been skeptical of his chances. While the case law is mixed, the U.S. Supreme Court generally has been reluctant to infringe on the rights of national political parties to choose their candidates as they see fit.

But Nelson and Hastings, who were joined in the suit by a Janet Taylor, a black Hendry County commissioner, contend that the party in this case is essentially usurped by the state, and that laws requiring ballot access apply. The state Legislature called the election, and state taxpayers will pay for it, so the DNC has no right to say the votes of Florida's 4-million Democrats won't count toward electing the presidential nominee.

"These constitutional protections attach to the Florida voters," Nelson said.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 11:17am]


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