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Appeals court reverses course, removes Carl Lewis from N.J. ballot

PHILADELPHIA ó A federal appeals court has stricken former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis’ name from the Nov. 8 ballot just nine days after it had ruled in the New Jersey candidate’s favor.|By Joelle Farrell, The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA ó A federal appeals court has stricken former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis’ name from the Nov. 8 ballot just nine days after it had ruled in the New Jersey candidate’s favor.

A three-judge panel at the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled unanimously in an opinion issued Thursday that the four-year residency requirement to run for New Jersey Senate does not infringe on Lewis’ constitutional rights.

The appeals remaining to Lewis, 50, a Medford, N.J., Democrat, are few, and election law experts say it’s unlikely his case will move any further up the federal court chain. Lewis has lost at every level of state court. A nine-time Olympic gold medalist who grew up in Willingboro, N.J., Lewis has been mired in a legal battle since he announced his candidacy in April.
Lewis’ lawyer, William Tambussi, said he was reviewing with Lewis all his legal options.

“It is unfortunate that the voters of the Eighth Legislative District are being denied a meaningful choice in this election by today’s decision,” Tambussi said in a statement. “The extreme measures taken by the Republican Party to keep Carl Lewis off the ballot truly do a disservice to the voters.”

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, in her role as secretary of state, determined last spring that Lewis did not meet the residency requirement because he voted by absentee ballot in California in 2008 and in 2009. Lewis has residences in both states but did not register to vote in New Jersey until April 11, 2011, the same day he announced his intent to run against Republican Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego in the right-leaning Eighth Legislative District.

Last week, the judges ruled 2-1 that the state “failed to demonstrate a compelling state interest” by striking Lewis’ name from the ballot.

But they reversed themselves in the 10-page opinion issued Thursday morning. Last week, the court ruled that the lower federal court, which ruled against Lewis earlier this month, applied an incorrect standard. On Thursday, the court agreed that the lower court judge, U.S. District Court Judge Noel Hillman, got it right.

“Lewis did not register to vote in New Jersey until April of 2011, he continued to affirm his domicile in California through the spring of 2009 by voting in California elections, and is a candidate for a New Jersey statewide office that is subject to a constitutional durational residency requirement,” the judges wrote.

“Under these circumstances, he cannot show that the New Jersey constitutional provision has been applied unevenly as to him. As he was treated no differently than others who are in other respects alike.”

The judges had agreed to rehear the case on Tuesday, a move legal experts say is unusual. At the hearing, the judges focused almost exclusively on Lewis’ California votes.

Chris Russell, a spokesman for the Burlington County GOP, which challenged Lewis’ residency, praised the new decision.

“Frankly, it never made much sense that someone who had not paid income taxes in New Jersey, and didn’t register to vote in New Jersey until the day he announced his candidacy, should be on the ballot for state Senate in New Jersey.”

Lewis can appeal for an “en banc” hearing in front of the full contingent of judges at the appellate court, but such hearings are rarely granted, election lawyers said. An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, while possible, is unlikely to be accepted, legal experts said.

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©2011 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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