Seven years after Ralph Nader's failed presidential campaign, his legal team went before Maine's highest court Wednesday in what could be his final bid to sue Democrats and others he claims conspired to try to keep him off the 2004 ballot in Maine and more than a dozen other states.
An attorney for the consumer advocate asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to reinstate his lawsuit accusing Democratic leaders of scheming to use the courts to sabotage him and his 2004 running mate, the late Peter Camejo.
Attorney Oliver Hall told the supreme court that the judge who threw out the lawsuit in November shouldn't have allowed defendants to invoke a Maine statute that targets meritless lawsuits aimed at silencing activists. Hall said the First Amendment doesn't protect Democrats from filing "false petitions."
Attorney Stephen Langsdorf, representing the Democratic Party, said the so-called Anti-SLAPP law was properly applied and his clients did nothing wrong.
Ultimately, Nader and Camejo appeared on the ballot as independents in 34 states and collected only three-tenths of a percent of the nation's popular vote. Republican George W. Bush won the election, and many Democrats blamed Nader for siphoning away votes from Democrat John Kerry. Nader made another unsuccessful bid for the White House in 2008.
Nader, who didn't attend the hearing, said he just wants to present his evidence to a jury.
"This is a case that is easily blocked on procedure, which of course allows the judges in Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania to exercise their political discretion. They never had to discuss the merits, which is where we think we have a strong case," Nader said from his office in Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit ended up in Maine after the three-year statute of limitations expired on Nader's 2007 lawsuit in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Nader then brought his case to Washington County Superior Court in Maine, which has a more generous statute of limitations.
Maine presents a different challenge for Nader because the anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation statute was intended to prevent lawsuits from stifling activists from speaking out.
Democrats invoked the Anti-SLAPP statute to claim they were being harassed by Nader's lawsuit. The way the law is written, the judge said he had to grant the Democrats' request to toss the lawsuit. If the state supreme court refuses to reinstate the lawsuit, then Nader's only recourse would be to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As for Nader's future, he said he's unlikely to run again for president because voters seem to be content with the "two-party dictatorship" that undercuts third-party candidates.
"The voters just are not disposed to break out of the two-party cul-de-sac," he said Wednesday. "We've done what we can do. Now someone else has to try."