NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On Friday, Tennessee’s highest court ruled that the Tennessee Republican Party did not violate state law when they removed a congressional candidate from their ballot for the upcoming primary election.
Robby Starbuck said he learned his name was being taken off the Republican ballot for Tennessee’s 5th congressional district in April because he wasn’t considered a “bona fide” Republican.
The recently re-drawn District 5 includes Davidson, Williamson, Wilson, Maury, Marshall, and Lewis counties.
“There’s no doubt that I’m a Republican. Donald Trump Jr. has come out and said that I need to be on the ballot. We’ve got the most conservative endorsements possible from people like Senator Rand Paul, Candace Owens, Charlie Kirk,” Starbuck said.
Starbuck’s lawyers filed a lawsuit in the Davidson County Chancery Court, arguing that the state Republican Party had violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. The law that generally requires meetings of governing bodies to be open to the public.
“Why is the state party so opposed to just letting people decide who they want to represent them,” Starbuck questioned.
The trial court ruled in Starbuck’s favor and ordered state officials to add him back to the ballot. But the state GOP fired back, this week, and filed an appeal and motion to the Supreme Court, who ultimately ruled the state Republican Party had done nothing wrong.
On Friday, the state’s highest court said the Open Meetings Act only applies to state primary boards, not state executive committees. They concluded that the Republican Party was acting as a state executive committee when they determined Starbuck was not a “bona fide” Republican.
“This doesn’t just affect the Republican Party. This is the same rules for the Democratic Party. It’s saying ‘hey if we decide we don’t like certain candidates, we as a small group of 16 people can go behind closed doors in secret and throw them off the ballot and give you only limited choices that we pre-approve for you,’ and I don’t think that’s something that your average voter is okay with. I think people want to decide who represents them and that’s a very American thing. It’s not a partisan thing,” Starbuck said.
The Tennessee Supreme Court vacated the trial court’s order granting Starbuck a temporary injunction requiring him to be placed on the ballot and remanded the case to the trial court to resolve any other remaining claims.
Tennessee Republican Party Chairman, Scott Golden, told News 2 on Friday afternoon that Starbuck was removed from the ballot because he failed to vote in the two Republican primaries in 2020. The bona fide standards that the Tennessee Republican Party requires is to have voted in 3 of the last 4 Republican Primaries.
Golden also sent News 2 the following statement:
“We very much appreciate the unanimous decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court today. The ruling completely vindicated the actions of the Tennessee Republican Party and affirmed our authority to ensure that only Bona Fide Republicans are allowed to be Republican candidates for office. We have always maintained that the actions of myself, the Party, the staff, and Members were conducted honestly and in accordance with the many state laws regarding ballot access for Republican candidates, and the verdict today has affirmed our belief. It will allow both the Republican and Democrat Parties the ability to operate in the future while maintaining important first amendment rights and freedom. We will take some time to reflect on this ruling and will consider our near future legal options for the organizations and individuals that have slandered our institution with charges of corruption. We are gratified that the Supreme Court has issued a thoughtful legal opinion that affirms the Tennessee Republican Party decision and process. I wish to thank our attorney, Josh Mullen, and his team for their hard work in this case and their effort in the strengthening of democracy.”
Starbuck says he plans to continue his campaign and is now considering other legal action.