Judge sides with state vs. Carl Lewis

Updated: April 28, 2011, 6:56 PM ET
Associated Press

CAMDEN, N.J. -- A federal judge has upheld the state's four-year residency rule for political candidates that knocked former Olympic great Carl Lewis off the ballot.

Judge Noel Hillman ruled Thursday that the residency requirement doesn't violate Lewis' guarantee of equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Lewis lawyer Bill Tambussi argued that the rule is unconstitutional. Lawyers for New Jersey and members of the state's Republican Party said the rule has been on the books for 167 years and is part of the state Constitution.

Tambussi said he will appeal to the state's 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. A separate challenge has been filed in state appeals court.

Carl Lewis
AP Photo/Julio CortezA federal judge upheld New Jersey's four-year residency rule that kept former Olympic great Carl Lewis off the ballot.

Lewis, a nine-time Olympic gold medalist, is pursuing a Democratic bid for state Senate. He is a New Jersey native but owns a home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a business in Los Angeles.

Republican Secretary of State Kim Guadagno ruled that Lewis didn't meet the residency rule. She ordered Lewis' name stricken from the Democratic primary ballot in the 8th District in south-central New Jersey.

Lewis, 49, grew up in Willingboro. He attended college in Texas and later bought and sold at least three homes in California. He testified that he now lives in Medford, a township of about 25,000 residents.

All sides agreed there is urgency to decide the case because ballots for the June primary are supposed to be mailed Friday. Lawyers for the three effected counties said ballots can be delayed for about a week without interfering with the election. Some 220,000 residents live in the traditionally Republican district.

The judge refused to stop the printing and mailing of ballots. Tambussi is seeking a stay as part of his appeal.

"All Carl Lewis wants to do is run for office," Tambussi said. "We're going to keep going."

Lewis was out of town Thursday and didn't attend the hearing.

Last week, Lewis testified for two hours before an administrative law judge who heard the initial ballot challenge brought by Republicans. The judge's recommendation that Lewis be allowed to run was reversed by Guadagno.

Hillman, Thursday's judge, agreed to rule on whether the state's residency regulation is constitutional but deferred questions on the merits of Guadagno's decision to the state appellate panel.

Hillman weighed the reasons for the residency rule, which include giving candidates time to learn the areas they want to represent, preventing political carpetbagging and giving voters time to get to know the candidates.

Though Tambussi made the case that Lewis is already known internationally for his track feats -- "he's the Bruce Springsteen of track," the lawyer argued -- Hillman seemed swayed by the Republican argument that the residency rule is valid because voters need time to get to know their candidates.

"It's to know the candidate -- not know his name or how many gold medals he has, but to know where the candidate stands on the issues," said Mark Sheridan, a lawyer for the Republican challengers. "It's not about knowing how fast he was in the Olympics, but what he'd do for the voters of the 8th District."

In the 1980s and '90s, Lewis was noted for his blistering pace and dominance of the long jump and 100-meter dash.

He won Olympic golds in the 100 and 200 meters, long jump and 400-meter relay in Los Angeles in 1984. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, he triumphed in the 100 meters and long jump.

In the 1992 Games in Barcelona, he took the long jump and anchored the U.S. 400 relay team, which won in world record time. He won his fourth straight Olympic gold in the long jump in 1996 in Atlanta.

He's a member of the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame and was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame last May.

After Thursday's hearing, Assistant Attorney General Donna Kelly, who represented Guadagno, said the state was satisfied with the decision.

"We think," she said, "the court's decision was well-grounded, well-based and well-reasoned."


Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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