“On the basis of the foregoing, Starbuck’s Amended Motion for a Preliminary Injunction will be denied,” wrote District Court of the Middle District of Tennessee Chief Judge Waverly Crenshaw as he denied Robby Starbuck’s request for an injunction which would have put him back on the ballot in the August 4 Republican primary ballot in Tennessee’s Fifth Congressional District.
The decision points to the judge’s stated desire that the issue should be settled in state court.
After the opinion was released, Tennessee Republican Party Chair Scott Golden said in a statement to The Tennessee Star, “The Tennessee Republican Party is pleased with the court’s decision and appreciates the opportunity to move forward with these elections.”
In the introduction to his opinion, Judge Crenshaw gave the background to Starbuck’s motion.
Robby Starbuck, whose formal name is Robert Starbuck Newsom, wants to be the next United States Representative for the Fifth Congressional District of Tennessee. To that end, Starbuck officially declared his candidacy on June 22, 2021, and has been vigorously campaigning as a Republican candidate ever since. However, unlike famous Mr. Smith who goes to Washington after being appointed by Governor Hubert Hopper to fill the shoes of Senator Samuel Foley, Starbuck can only go to Washington as a Congressman if his name is placed on the August 4, 2022 Republican primary ballot. Therein lies the rub and the basis for Starbuck’s Verified Complaint (Doc. No. 1) and Amended Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. No. 11).
The judge further said the main issue is whether or not Starbuck is entitled to an injunction.
Exactly why Mr. Starbuck’s name was removed from the ballot the Court may never know. His Complaint speaks of smoke-filled rooms with carpetbaggers engaged in political chicanery reminiscent of the Daley machine in Chicago during the ’60s and ’70s and New York’s Tammany Hall in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Whatever the reason, the only question now is whether Mr. Starbuck is entitled to a preliminary injunction under Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He is not.
The judge then addressed Starbuck’s legal claims point by point. The first was that the TRP’s bylaws violate the U.S. Constitution’s Qualification Clause claim, which was made by Starbuck.
Second, and as to all Defendants, whether Starbuck is truly a bona fide Republican has nothing to do with the qualifications under Article 1, 2, cl. 2 of the Constitution. That is, the TRP’s decision will not change or add to the requirement that Starbuck be at least 25, a citizen of the United States for seven years, and a resident of Tennessee when he is elected, should Tennessee voters so choose.
The judge cited LaRouche v. Fowler in addressing that point, saying, “The party’s ability to define who is a ‘bona fide Democrat’ is nothing less than the party’s ability to define itself.”
He further cited in his opinion the Eu v. San Francisco County Democratic Central Committee decision, which had cited Ripon Society Inc. v. Nat’l Republican Party. “Freedom of association means that not only an individual voter has the right to associate with the political party of her choice, but also that a political party has a right to ‘identify the people who constitute the association,’ and to select a ‘standard bearer who best represents the party’s ideologies and preferences.'”
On Starbuck’s claim that his due process was violated, the judge wrote, “Starbuck has not established a likelihood of success on his procedural due process claim.”
He later added, “Starbuck alleges that the ‘right to run in the Republican primary in Tennessee’s 5th Congressional District is a liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.’ The weight of the law is to the contrary.”
Judge Crenshaw’s opinion additionally dismissed Starbuck’s claim of First Amendment violations.
For many of the reasons already discussed, Starbuck has not shown a likelihood of success on his First Amendment Claim, either. This includes the question of whether there exists state action within the meaning of Section 1983 for purposes of his claim against the TRP and Golden.
He further said, “By status, Tennessee leaves it to the executive committee of a party to determine who is qualified and whose name shall be placed on a primary ballot.”
To that end, the TRP enacted rules for determining who is a bona fide Republican, including the requirement that either the individual has consistently voted in statewide Republican primaries for the past few years, or has been acceptably vouched for.
In his suit, Starbuck made a claim that his disqualification from the TN-5 ballot caused him irreparable harm. The judge wrote, “The ‘reality’ here is that Tennessee and its state actors have done no such thing.”
Another claim was made that the disqualification did substantial harm to others. The judge addressed that claim, saying, “Second, entering an injunction when a plaintiff fails to establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits is particularly problematic in the political arena.”
On the issue of public interest, the judge wrote:
The Court certainly agrees that upholding the Constitution is in the public’s interest. But, as confirmed by the foregoing and as stated in the outset, Starbuck’s complaint isn’t so much a complaint that the Constitution has been violated, but his “real question” is whether the TRP did not treat him fairly in accordance with its rules. On the other hand, the right of a party to choose its flag-bearer is of significant importance not only to the party, but also to the public as a whole.
In addition to denying Starbuck’s motion, the judge referred the issue to the magistrate judge, which is effectively a matter of housekeeping, effectively signaling that this is likely near the end of the federal case issue for Starbuck.
Starbuck can appeal Judge Crenshaw’s denial, continue to litigate the issue well beyond the election – which would not accomplish his goal – or file a motion for injunction in state court.
Sources tell The Star that this decision signals that Starbuck’s legal case is going nowhere.
Read the full opinion here:
Read the Judge’s order referring the case to the Magistrate here:
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