Federal judge upholds decision to remove Carl Lewis from ballot for state Senate
Published: Wednesday, September 07, 2011, 12:24 PM Updated: Wednesday, September 07, 2011, 8:09 PM
By Matt Friedman/Statehouse Bureau
TRENTON — With less than two weeks to go before county clerks need to put together ballots for the November general election, a federal judge said Wednesday that the former track star Carl Lewis should not be on them.
U.S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman praised Lewis, a nine-time gold medalist, and his desire to run for state Senate, but he refused to overturn Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s decision to keep Lewis off the ballot. She said he did not meet the state’s four-year residency requirement for the office.
“The plaintiff is a man of great and inspiring achievement, justifiably held in high regard, and possessed of promise for the future,” Hillman wrote in a decision that was filed Tuesday and made public Wednesday.
Still, he wrote, the “residency requirement applies to all, regardless of economic status, race, creed, color, age, gender, and political affiliation.”
The decision is the latest twist in a seemingly endless legal drama that has dogged Lewis, a Democrat, since April, when he announced his intention to run against state Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego (R-Burlington) in South Jersey’s Republican-leaning 8th Legislative District.
However, it is not the final word. Lewis’s attorney, William Tambussi, said he will seek an expedited appeal with Third Circuit in Philadelphia.
Republicans in Burlington County challenged Lewis’ residency immediately after he declared his candidacy. An administrative law judge ruled he should stay on the ballot, but the decision was overturned by Guadagno — who oversees elections in her appointed role as secretary of state — in part because Lewis voted in California as recently as 2009.
Lewis then appealed the decision by Guadagno, a Republican, in state and federal court, saying the residency requirement violates the federal Constitution.
The State Supreme Court refused to take up the case, and Hillman initially ruled against Lewis in April. But the Third Circuit appeals panel returned the case to Hillman, asking him to rule on whether the residency requirement specifically violated Lewis’ constitutional rights. The appeals court also ruled that Lewis should remain on the ballot for the Democratic primary, which he won unopposed.
While his candidacy has been in limbo, Lewis has continued to campaign, knocking on doors throughout the district.
Lewis referred questions on the ruling to Tambussi, who said he was not surprised by the decision.
“I think the judge signaled his thoughts on the matter early on and his intent was set forth in the initial opinion,” he said. “There is absolutely no demonstration of any harm to the state of New Jersey with Carl Lewis being on the ballot.”
Chris Russell, a spokesman for the Burlington County Republicans, said Lewis was seeking different treatment because of his celebrity.
“Judge Hillman’s decision said it all,” he said. “The state’s constitutional residency requirement applies to everyone equally, even celebrities like Carl Lewis. We’ve said from Day One that Mr. Lewis clearly did not meet the legal residency requirement, and that he wasn’t above the law just because his name was Carl Lewis.”
The dealine for preparing ballots for the general election is Sept. 19, but in the past late changes have been made.
In 2002, former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli dropped his re-election effort a little more than a month before voters were to go to the polls amid ethical questions. The state Supreme Court upheld the 11th-hour switch, which was challenged by Republicans, leading the way for Frank Lautenberg, who had retired from the Senate, to replace Torricelli on the ballot.
Although Torricelli had been behind in the polls, Lautenberg went on to win.
• Judge won’t let Carl Lewis’ attorney question Lt. Gov. Guadagno about refusal to certify candidacy
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• Editorial: Carl Lewis will be back at the finish — on the ballot