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Supreme Court denies Duke spot on Georgia ballot


WASHINGTON -- Louisianian David Duke's attempt to rely on the Constitution to help him get on state ballots as a Republican presidential candidate failed in the Supreme Court yesterday.

In an unusual Sunday order, the court by a 7-2 vote allowed Georgia Republicans to keep him off their party's ballot in the state's March 3 presidential primary. The order contained no explanation.

Mr. Duke claimed his blocked access to the Georgia ballot violated his right of free speech.

The court's action dealt only with Georgia and was not a final ruling on Mr. Duke's constitutional claims, but a combination of circumstance means that time probably would run out before he could get the court to rule on his claims.

Any cases the justices agree to review between now and the end of the primary season in June probably would not come up for a hearing until next fall, after the election, and yesterday's order made it appear that most of the justices see no need to act before then.

The former Ku Klux Klansman and ex-Nazi Party supporter still can ask the court to review a Feb. 11 federal appeals court ruling against his Georgia bid, but that remains unpromising as a practical matter.

Mr. Duke's plea was rejected over the dissents of Justices Harry A. Blackmun and John Paul Stevens. It would have taken five votes on the court to put him on the Georgia GOP ballot for next week's primary.

Thus, the justices' order appeared to end the controversial Louisiana state legislator's last hope of getting any help from federal courts when state Republican leaders thwart his bid to run as a GOP candidate in their states.

But Mr. Duke is entitled to be on the Republican ballot as a challenger to President Bush in 11 states: Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. It is unclear whether he actually will campaign in all those states.

After yesterday's order, Mr. Duke could get on other states' GOP ballots only if his efforts go unchallenged or if he should win a legal contest in state court. He has a legal challenge pending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

He could seek to run in some states as an independent candidate or as some third party's candidate. But he prefers to seek votes as a Republican.

Mr. Duke has been barred from the ballot as a Republican presidential candidate only in two states where he sought to run: Georgia and Florida.

Under Georgia law, top Republican officials are given a veto on any presidential candidate not to their liking who seeks to get on the GOP ballot.

Mr. Duke has contended that the law violates a right of free speech as a candidate, a right to seek the presidency even while holding very controversial political views and a right of GOP voters to cast ballots for him as their party's nominee.

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