The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals put independent gubernatorial candidate Soraya Diase Coffelt and running mate, Republican John Canegata back on the general election ballot in an order published Friday.
In late May, the V.I. Elections Office rejected the nominating petition for lieutenant governor candidate Canegata, saying that as a registered Republican he could not legally run on a nonpartisan ticket with an independent, Coffelt, giving Canegata three days to resubmit.
Coffelt and Canegata declined to resubmit, instead challenging the ruling in court. On June 7, Chief Judge for the U.S. District of the Virgin Islands Wilma Lewis issued a temporary restraining order blocking the election system from disqualifying the two running mates. (See Related Links below)
When hearing arguments on the TRO, Lewis suggested that passage of law specifically applied to filing nomination petitions for running in a partisan primary, while those not running in a primary, such as independents, are addressed in a different passage of the law, for filing nomination papers, rather than petitions.
Lewis said the court "is unconvinced that the plain language of the statutory provisions upon which defendants rely stand for the propositions that defendants assert as the bases for disqualifying the Coffelt/Canegata team. Specifically, the court is not persuaded that the statutory provisions, as written, forbid a registered member of a political party – who is not a political party candidate for public office, and thus not the subject of a nomination petition for such office – from running for such office outside of the primary election process."
July 7, Lewis made her ruling in the case, deciding against Coffelt and Canegata, citing precedent case law indicating where the law is silent or ambiguous, the Supervisor of Elections should be given deference in interpreting the law. On July 12, she denied a stay of that order, pending appeal.
Meanwhile, acting on that order, Elections printed sample ballots without their names and planned to print final ballots without them as well.
On Friday, a three-judge panel comprising Judges Thomas Vanaskie, Patty Schwartz and D. Michael Fisher issued an order overturning Lewis’ July 12 decision and instead granting Coffelt and Canegata’s request for an injunction pending appeal. The order says an opinion explaining the reasoning of the court will follow, but the opinion had not been published as of 9:30 p.m. Friday.