Jeffrey R. Adams & Lucas I. Pangle, The Downfall of “Incumbent Protection”: Case Study and Implications, 54 U.R. L. Rev. 243 (2019).
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On January 9, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit struck down Virginia Code section 24.2-509—Virginia’s long-standing “Incumbent Protection Act” (or the “Act”). The Incumbent Protection Act was the only statute of its kind, and had endured criticism by grassroots commentators. Yet, the Incumbent Protection Act had long evaded scrutiny in the courtroom. Indeed, the Incumbent Protection Act’s courtroom history is labyrinthine, replete with interesting and significant commentaries on party rights, standing, and public policy preference for primaries. In fact, before its eventual demise, it had been implicated in several lawsuits bringing constitutional challenges to various Virginia election laws and had dodged one direct assault by defending on standing grounds.
By the time the challenge to the Incumbent Protection Act culminated with the Fourth Circuit’s January 9, 2019 decision, litigation to dismantle it had been ongoing for almost five years between two different suits. Indeed, the Incumbent Protection Act was felled not by one, but two swings.
This Article chronicles the course of the litigation that ultimately toppled the Incumbent Protection Act. Spanning two lawsuits and no fewer than seven opinions, the story of the litigation provides insight to practitioners who hope to navigate the interlocking and overlapping hierarchies of party plans, state laws, and constitutional rights. Following the summary and analysis of the litigation, this Article will assess the ramifications of the two Fourth Circuit opinions and will look ahead to issues likely of interest to future challengers to Virginia’s election laws.