Giving the NeverTrump movement in Virginia a shot in the arm, a federal judge struck down a provision that could have led to the prosecution of GOP delegates bound for Trump but who vote for another candidate on the first ballot.
On Monday George H. W. Bush appointee U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne ruled that Virginia GOP delegates cannot face prosecution for refusing to vote on the first ballot for a candidate to whom they are purportedly “bound.” The judge deemed the possible reprisals for breaking the binding rule to be an “unconstitutional burden” on a delegate’s “First Amendment rights to free political speech and political association.”
The lawsuit was brought against the Virginia GOP by Cruz delegate Carroll “Beau” Correll, a Winchester attorney who has said he won’t vote for Trump on the first ballot despite the state rules making Virginia a winner-take-all state forcing him to vote Trump first. Breaking the binding rule could have left Correll open to prosecution and a sentence of up to 12 months in jail or a $2,500 fine or both should he decide to do so at the GOP convention this year.
The ruling, though, was quite narrow and pertained only to the Virginia delegates. Judge Payne did not address national GOP Party rules or rules in other states that also bind delegates on the first ballot. The ruling also does not affect GOP convention rules.
Fed. judge rules that Virginia delegate to convention cannot be bound to vote for Trump on first vote. pic.twitter.com/tUoVPGIzXE
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) July 11, 2016
For his part, Correll celebrated the win by tweeting for the “free the delegates” cause.
— Beau (@BeauCorrell) July 11, 2016
Judge Payne’s ruling comes only a day after NeverTrump delegate Kendal Unruh claimed there are enough delegates on the RNC’s Rules Committee to force the Party to hold a vote to decide whether or not to change the binding rules. Unruh wants delegates freed to vote for whomever they wish on the first or any ballot.
There is, however, no way to assess the validity of Unruh’s claim that the NeverTrumpers have the 28 votes needed to force the issue in the GOP convention rules committee.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.