People For the American Way Foundation

Biden Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction Against Ballot System that Favors Party-Backed Candidates in Primaries

Biden Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction Against Ballot System that Favors Party-Backed Candidates in Primaries

Judge Zahid Quraishi, nominated by President Biden to the District of New Jersey, issued a preliminary injunction against the state ‘s primary ballot system, which gives candidates backed by party bosses a significant advantage. Unless suspended or overruled, the ruling will affect ballots in the June primary. The March 2024 decision was in Kim v Hanlon.


What happened in this case?

 Nineteen out of 21 New Jersey counties use a primary ballot design that inherently favors candidates backed by party leaders. The ballot brackets or groups together all candidates endorsed by state party leaders, rather than grouping candidates according to the office they are running for. State law authorized the design, under which party-backed candidates usually appear first on the ballot.

Rep. Andy Kim, a Democratic candidate for US Senate, along with several other candidates for other offices, filed a lawsuit in February challenging the ballot design. The suit contends that the ballot design violates the First Amendment and other constitutional provisions. Kim and the other plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction against the use of the ballot design, and an extensive hearing occurred on March 18.


How Did Judge Quraishi Rule and Why Is it Important?

 Judge Quraishi granted the motion for a preliminary injunction in a comprehensive 49-page opinion. Even though Kim had recently received most county leaders’ endorsement since the withdrawal of New Jersey  First Lady Tammy Murphy from the Senate race, Quraishi found that Kim and the other plaintiffs were likely to prevail in the case. Specifically, he concluded that they would likely prevail on the claim that the system violates their First Amendment rights “to associate (or not associate) with other candidates.” He also found that they are likely to prevail on their contention that the system violates the Constitution’s Elections Clause by “favor[ing] or disfavor[ing] a class of candidates” since it improperly influences primary election outcomes “by virtue of the layout of the primary ballot.”

Quraishi also found that Kim and the other plaintiffs had shown that they will likely suffer “real or immediate irreparable harm in the immediate future” unless a preliminary injunction was granted. After weighing the evidence at the hearing, Quraishi concluded that the harm that Kim and the other plaintiffs will likely suffer without an injunction “well exceeds” any “minimal harm” that the county official defendants could experience from an injunction, particularly in light of the time remaining to implement ballot changes before the June primary.  He also concluded that there was a strong “public interest” in “having candidates” in the primary “presented on the ballot in a fair and equal manner that is free from unnecessary government interference.”

The county officials likely will appeal Judge Quraishi’s decision. Nevertheless, the ruling is important to the rights of Kim and other state candidates to appear on the June primary ballot in a fair manner that does not violate their rights. It also sets an important precedent on ballot structuring, particularly in New Jersey, that will hopefully lead to the permanent restructuring of primary ballots in the state. In addition, the decision serves as a reminder of the importance of promptly confirming fair-minded nominees like Judge Quraishi, the first Muslim confirmed by the US Senate as an Article III judge, to our federal courts

UPDATE: The Third Circuit unanimously affirmed Judge Quresh’s decision in an April decision including Biden judge Freeman