New Jersey’s limit on appropriate ballot slogans was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit on Wednesday, allowing election officials to prevent candidates from using other people’s names or slogans.
The lawsuit came after Eugene Mazo, a constitutional law professor at Rutgers University, tested the state’s slogan law after a brief bids for the Democratic congressional nomination in New Jersey’s 10th district in 2020 and the 8th district in 2022.
In 2020, Mazo attempted to run under the slogans “Essex County Democratic Committee, Inc.,” “Hudson County Democratic Organization” and “Regular Democratic Organization of Union County” but was blocked because the county organizations are backing Payne.
He filed a lawsuit with shadowy perennial candidate Lisa McCormick in 2020 after he bid to run under the slogans, “Not Me, Us” and “Bernie Sanders Betrayed the NJ Revolution” were rejected because she lacked authorization to use them.
Last summer, U.S. District Court Chief Judge Freda Wolfson dismissed a lawsuit filed by Mazo arguing that a requirement to get the consent of a party organization to use their ballot slogan was unconstitutional. Wolfson said that Mazo couldn’t “plausibly” claim that the statute violated his First Amendment rights.
“To safeguard the promise of democratic self-governance, our constitution charges States with the noble but often difficult duty to protect the fairness and integrity of elections without stifling the free exchange of ideas and associations that takes place between voters, parties, and candidates as part of every political campaign,” wrote Judge Cheryl Ann Krause of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. “And while courts have their own duty to fiercely guard First Amendment rights, where States enact politically neutral regulations of the mechanics of the electoral process itself, the deference embodied in the Anderson-Burdick balancing test is both appropriate and necessary.”
Krause said that “New Jersey has struck a proper balance between the rights of voters, candidates, and third parties on the one hand, and the need to ensure order and fairness on the ballot on the other.”
Earlier this year, Mazo sought to use the slogan “Supported by the Governor” in the Union County portion of the 8th; Gov. Phil Murphy had already endorsed Robert J. Menendez for the seat. He sought to use “Endorsed by the New York Times” in Hudson.
But then-Division of Elections director Robert Giles rejected both slogans, allowing Mazo to only use the “Professor. Lawyer. Author. Immigrant. Proud Newarker” slogan that he had filed in Essex. Giles told Mazo that he could not use the slogans without the consent of Murphy and the New York Times, respectively.
The U.S. District Court agreed with Giles, saying that
In the 4th district, Republican Robert Shapiro was permitted to swap out his original slogan, “Let’s Go Brand*n – FJB” with “Let’s Go Brand*n” after election officials explained that “FJB” referred to a particular individual – in this case, an acronym widely known to mean “Fuck Joe Biden” – and that he would need Biden’s permission.
Ultimately, Mazo and Shapiro did not run in the June primary because they failed to obtain fifty valid signatures to get on the ballot.
Manzo and McCormick are on the hook for the costs of the appeal.