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Ralph Nader to PA Gov: Reject Collins

[googlevideo=http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-7566870598163268491]

Ralph Nader
Peter Miguel Camejo
P.O. Box 19312
Washington, D.C. 20009
January 23, 2008

Governor Edward G. Rendell
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17120

Dear Governor Rendell,

Commonwealth Court Judge James Gardner Colins recently announced his interest in filling the vacancy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created by Chief Justice Ralph Cappy’s retirement. As concerned citizens who have firsthand experience with Judge Colins’ jurisprudence, we are writing to urge you to reject his bid for appointment to this position. In our experience, Judge Colins lacks the legal acumen and judicial temperament necessary for a successful tenure as a Justice of the Commonwealth’s high court.

Judge Colins presided over a challenge to the nomination papers we submitted in Pennsylvania as candidates for President and Vice President during the 2004 general election. In setting aside our nomination papers, Judge Colins issued an opinion in which he falsely accused our campaign of seeking to gain ballot access by fraud. This false accusation “in Judge Colins’ characteristically hyperbolic style” was publicized widely, both during and after the election. As Judge Colins’ own factual findings prove, however, his accusation is not only false, but a mathematical impossibility.
The Nader-Camejo campaign submitted a nomination petition with 51,273 signatures to satisfy a requirement of 25,697 signatures. Judge Colins counted 49,499 of these signatures either as valid, or invalid based on narrow technical or procedural grounds, and another 1,087 signatures as duplicates. Finally, Judge Colins counted a tiny number of signatures “687 or 1.3 percent of the total” as “forgeries,” a category that included phony or fictitious names signed by people bent on sabotage or mischief, which a review of the petition prior to submission failed to detect. In fact, pursuant to this review, our campaign had already struck approximately 7,000 such signatures before submitting the petition, because they were obviously the result of sabotage or mischief.

After summarizing these findings, Judge Colins inexplicably concluded that the petition was “the most deceitful and fraudulent exercise ever perpetrated upon this Court,” and that the petition included “thousands of names that were created at random.”

Simply put, these accusations are false, and demonstrably so. Judge Colins’ own findings indicate that he counted 50,586 out of 51,273 signatures (or 98.7 percent) as free from any possible impropriety. Judge Colins’ claim that the petition included “thousands” of fraudulent signatures is therefore a mathematical impossibility.

In short, Judge Colins’ false accusations against the Nader-Camejo campaign constitute a gross and flagrant distortion of the facts in this case.

Justice Thomas Saylor, who was the only member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to address Judge Colins’ accusations on the merits, accordingly concluded that the record contains “no evidence” to support them. (The other members of the high court, by contrast, upheld Judge Colins’ decision without opinion, issuing an unsigned order that was only three sentences long.) Nevertheless, Judge Colins never issued a correction, despite receiving notice from Justice Saylor not only of his egregious error of fact, but also regarding errors of law constituting grounds for reversing his entire decision.

Worse, Judge Colins, who was elected to the bench as a Democrat, subsequently ordered us to pay $81,102.19 in litigation costs to Reed Smith, LLP, the corporate law firm that challenged our nomination papers in cooperation with Pennsylvania House Democratic leaders H. William DeWeese, Michael Veon and a reported 170 Democratic Party “volunteers” Mr. DeWeese and Mr. Veon recruited.

No state in the nation, including Pennsylvania, has ever taxed candidates for public office with such costs. Indeed, Judge Colins’ unprecedented order functions much like a poll tax, effectively penalizing candidates for attempting to run for office, just as poll taxes once penalized voters for attempting to vote.*

The impact of Judge Colins’ mishandling of our case has been immediate, farreaching and severe. In Pennsylvania’s 2006 general election, only one minor party candidate, Carl Romanelli of the Green Party, was willing to risk personal financial ruin by defending his nomination papers against attack by Democratic Party challengers.

Now Mr. Romanelli, too, is fighting an order to pay more than $80,000 in litigation costs to a corporate law firm, Thorp, Reed and Armstrong, that the Democratic Party retained to force him off the ballot. Furthermore, because no other minor party candidate ran for office in 2006, the state of Pennsylvania no longer recognizes the formerly-qualified Constitution, Libertarian and Green Parties. Judge Colins’ order taxing candidates’ rights to speak, petition and assemble within Pennsylvania’s electoral system therefore ultimately punishes Pennsylvania’s voters, leaving them with fewer voices in the political sphere and fewer choices at the polls.**

Only Judge Colins himself knows how or why he so grossly mishandled our case, issuing an opinion that his own facts contradict, followed by an unprecedented judgment punishing core protected First Amendment activity. Nevertheless, Judge Colins’ conduct in this case falls far short of the high standards of judicial excellence necessary for appointment to the Commonwealth’s high court. We call on you to apply these standards and disqualify Judge Colins from your consideration. James Gardner Colins is not fit for appointment to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

We enclose the opinions from our case for your review, and urge you to confirm the foregoing facts for yourself.

Sincerely,
Ralph Nader
Peter Miguel Camejo
2004 Independent Candidates for President and Vice President

* In keeping with its recent practice of abdicating its role as the nation’s highest appellate court, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to review this case. Nevertheless, Judge Colins’ unprecedented order clearly violates Supreme Court precedents prohibiting states from requiring candidates and voters to pay costs associated with holding elections. See Lubin v. Panish, 415 U.S. 709 (1974) (striking down candidate filing fees ranging up to $982); Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134 (1972) (striking down candidate filing fees ranging up to $8,900); Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966) (striking down poll taxes).

**Although a divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld Judge Colins’ taxation of costs in our case, that court appears to have reconsidered, and recently reversed and remanded the Commonwealth Court’s taxation of costs against Mr. Romanelli.

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