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The justices ruled, 7-2, that Washington state’s open primary elections system does not violate the First Amendment right of freedom of association. Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party and Washington v. Washington State Republican Party, nos. 06-713 and 06-730. In 2004, Washington state voters passed an initiative, I-872, that would allow voters to select any candidate in a primary, with the top two vote-getters facing off in the November election, even if they are from the same party. Under the system, all candidates may list their political party preference after their names. The major parties challenged the law in federal court, asserting a First Amendment right to select their own nominees without outside interference. They said David Duke identifies himself as a Republican, while Lyndon LaRouche calls himself a Democrat. No primary under the new system has been held as yet because of legal challenges. The 9th Circuit said that the initiative violated First Amendment rights of state political parties. The justices reversed. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas said that overturning Washington’s plan would have been an “extraordinary and precipitous nullification of the will of the people.” There is “no basis to presume that a well-informed electorate will interpret a candidate’s party-preference designation to mean that the candidate is the party’s chosen nominee” or that the party approves of the candidate. The initiative cannot be struck down on the basis of “the mere possibility of voter confusion.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. concurred. Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy dissented. • CRIMINAL PRACTICE The justices overturned, 7-2, a defendant’s murder conviction and death sentence on the ground that the trial judge “committed clear error” in ruling on the defendant’s objection to a prosecution peremptory jury challenge, which the defendant argued was based on race. Snyder v. Louisiana, No. 06-10119. A Louisiana state court found Allen Snyder guilty of repeatedly slashing his estranged wife, Mary Snyder, and a man, Harold Wilson, with a knife when he found them in a car outside her mother’s home in August 1995. His wife survived, but Wilson died. The trial took place in August 1996, less than a year after O.J. Simpson was acquitted of killing his ex-wife and a male friend of hers. Leading up to the trial, state prosecutor Jim Williams made repeated public references to the Snyder case as his “O.J. Simpson case.” During jury selection in the trial, Williams disqualified all five blacks in the pool of prospective jurors. Snyder was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. The justices said Williams had improperly excluded blacks from the jury. Writing on behalf of the court, Alito said the trial judge should have blocked Williams from striking a black juror. The prosecutor’s explanation for striking a prospective black juror was “suspicious,” said Alito. The prospective juror’s supervisor said he did not think a schedule conflict between the upcoming trial and the prospective juror’s work would be a problem. In contrast, the prosecutor accepted white jurors who disclosed conflicting obligations. Alito’s opinion was joined by Roberts, Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer. Thomas and Scalia dissented.

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