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A handful of Republican legislators threw their support behind a lawsuit filed by the Utah Republican Party challenging a law that changes the way nominees for office are chosen.
"As it stands today, the state does not have the authority to tell a private association, most particularly a political organization" how it conducts itself, said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan. "If we start treading on that, we start treading on the very sacred territory that is the Bill of Rights in the first place."
The Republican Party is suing Gov. Gary Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox over SB54, passed overwhelmingly during the last legislative session, which allows candidates to seek a party nomination without going to the party's convention and winning the vote from the delegates.
Instead, SB54 lets candidates gather a requisite number of signatures and go straight to the primary ballot.
The Republican Party contends that neuters the party in deciding who will be the GOP nominee and deprives it of the First Amendment right to free association.
Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, said SB54 also forces the GOP to open its primaries to unaffiliated voters, giving people who are not registered Republicans the ability to help decide who the nominee will be and even creates the potential that the Republican nominee will not be a member of the party.
Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, supports the lawsuit. He voted for SB54 because, he said, it needed to pass so the courts could rule on it.
SB54 was the result of a compromise between legislators and leaders of Count My Vote, which had spent about $1 million gathering more than 100,000 signatures to put an initiative on the ballot to create a way to win the nomination without going through the convention process.
The Utah Democratic Party on Tuesday reiterated its support for the compromise struck by the Legislature.
Utah Republican Party Chairman James Evans said it should be up to the parties not the state to decide how nominees are chosen.
"Our constitutional rights are not subject to a popular vote or the popular will," Evans said.
The Utah attorney general's office will defend the law. A judge has yet to be assigned to the case.