3rd Circuit Court panel backs Carl Lewis again in residency dispute

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September 16, 2011

New Jersey

By David Godow

TRENTON, New Jersey:

In a mirror of the Olympic runner Carl Lewis's battle to get on the June primary ballot in his race for New Jersey Senate, a panel of federal 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals judges has once again cleared his way to the ballot box. The panel's 2-1 decision, released on Tuesday, declared that the state of New Jersey had "'failed to demonstrate a compelling state interest' for leaving him off the ballot."[1] This overruled both Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, who originally kicked Lewis out of the race for failing to satisfy New Jersey's four-year residency requirement to run for office, and federal district court judge Noel Hillman.

This month's court squabble over Lewis's candidacy mirrors the one that took place in May before the New Jersey Senate primary. Guadagno first kicked Lewis off the ballot in April, citing concerns about his residency status; following Lewis' appeal, her decision was upheld by Judge Hillman in May. At the end of May, the 3rd Circuit reversed Hillman's decision, arguing that Lewis' name should appear on primary ballots until a more permanent decision regarding his residency status could be made. Guadagno restarted the cycle of litigation in August by removing Lewis once again.

The latest decision by the 3rd Circuit rests on the idea that the purpose of a residency requirement is to "ensure that a candidate knows the local issues and that the voters know the candidate."[1] Lewis' side argued that the runner would have no trouble with either of those requirements, as he grew up in New Jersey.

It remains to be seen whether the Burlington County Republicans who initially pushed Lt. Gov. Guadagno to remove Lewis will appeal to a full sitting of the 3rd Circuit, or to the U.S. Supreme Court. It will also be interesting to see whether this decision, which could be seen to weaken the legal standing of state residency requirements in general, with have further legal ripple effects.

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