In Trump v. Anderson, the Supreme Court is taking up the questions of whether Donald Trump can appear on the Republican Party primary ballot. This ballot is administered by the State of Colorado, and Colorado law requires that any candidate appearing on a primary ballot be "eligible" to hold office.

However, the Republican Party is a private organization, not a government organization. I would have thought that under the recognized right to freedom of association, the GOP should have the freedom to select any candidate they want to lead their party, even if that candidate can't possibly hold office.

That said, I haven't heard this argument come up in the news coverage of Trump v. Anderson, so either I'm misinterpreting something or this is already settled law. Why does a state have the right to say anything about the candidates in what's supposedly an internal election for a political party? Is there any case law discussing these or similar restrictions on primary candidates?

(I readily accept that the state has an interest in ensuring that candidates appearing on a general election ballot are eligible to serve. My question is strictly about whether the state has a legitimate interest in requiring that political parties nominate "eligible" candidates in a primary process.)

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    How would a state disqualifying a party's potential presidential candidate prevent the party from electing that person as their party leader? Is there any stipulation that the "partly leader" is necessarily the same person as the party's "presidential candidate"?
    – brhans
    Feb 8 at 16:30
  • @brhans: Perhaps "party leader" is the wrong word, but one would think that a political party should have the freedom to pick its own candidates to stand in an election, even ones that might be unsuitable for whatever reason. (I'm admittedly coming from this from an upbringing in Canadian politics, where candidate selection process is much more clearly a private affair that the state doesn't have a hand in. Having the state involved in this process has always seemed slightly off to me.) Feb 8 at 20:28
  • @brhans The GOP can choose anyone they want to be Republican National Committee (RNC) chair, which is the highest political party office in the GOP. Indeed, the position happens to be an open one right now.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 9 at 19:58
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    @MichaelSeifert The difference is not an accidental one. The U.S. deliberate weakened political party leadership power in the late 19th century and early 20th century out of concern about corruption associated with "political machines" in political parties.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 9 at 20:00
  • @ohwilleke Interesting, I was unaware of that. I might have to ask a follow-up question on Politics or History about how things got this way. Feb 10 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


A primary election is administered by and at the expense of state government. It is entitled to establish its rules for how it is conducted.

More generally, a state government is allowed to set rules and regulations regarding how candidates for public office are nominated.

The Colorado Supreme Court's ruling discusses this mostly at ¶¶ 50-56 and cites to a ruling by then 10th Circuit Judge Gorsuch (now a U.S. Supreme Court justice) supporting this conclusion. Hassan v. Colorado, 495 F. App’x 947, 948–49 (10th Cir. 2012).

  • Does it then follow that the candidates involved in a caucus need to meet only the requirements set by the party, e.g., a 20-year-old who is not a citizen could still be selected? Nonsensical but that might be par for the course now.
    – doneal24
    Feb 9 at 21:10
  • @doneal24 The state has no say in what happens in a caucus until the results requesting ballot access are submitted to election officials. So, the state would say no to putting the party's caucus nominee on the general election ballot.
    – ohwilleke
    Feb 9 at 21:20

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