Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) won a major political victory in the courts Thursday when a federal appeals panel upheld the constitutionality of the tough qualifying rules for New York's Republican presidential primary.
Barring a reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court on an expected appeal, the decision likely means that Dole would likely face limited--or perhaps no--opposition for the 103 GOP delegates at stake in the Empire State's March 7 primary.
Dole may be on the ballot alone because New York's Republican establishment--headed by Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato and Gov. George Pataki--earlier this year lined up behind his candidacy and pledged to use its resources to ensure he would gain ballot access.
The party's qualifying rules are so stringent that they loom as a huge hurdle for candidates not enjoying such support. Indeed, the barriers are so formidable that in the past many Republican presidential contenders have not even bothered to attempt to qualify.
That was the expected scenario for the 1996 contest until a group of Republican voters, headed by environmental lawyer Larry Rockefeller, filed a challenge to the qualifying rules, contending they violated the U.S. Constitution.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Edward R. Korman in Brooklyn ruled in favor of the lawsuit and issued a temporary injunction against the qualifying rules.
But the Republican State Committee appealed and, in a decision announced from the bench, the three-judge federal appeals court in Manhattan reversed Korman.
The party's qualifying rules require each Republican candidate to gather 1,250 certified signatures from each of the state's 31 congressional districts. The signatures can only be harvested during a six-week period that began last month--a monumental task without help from state GOP leaders. Also, signatures can be successfully challenged for a variety of minor reasons.
Rockefeller said he would appeal Thursday's ruling once it is issued in writing.
And at least one of Dole's rivals, publishing magnate and New York resident Malcolm S. "Steve" Forbes Jr., pledged to make an effort to qualify for the ballot under the existing rules.
"We are proceeding with our efforts in all the congressional districts," said campaign spokeswoman Gretchen Morgenson.
In another development, Dole refused for a second time to sign a pledge supporting an anti-abortion plank in the GOP platform. But as he has in the past, he stressed that his words and record make it clear that he backs the plank.
The request to put his commitment in writing came from anti-abortion activist Phyllis Schlafly, who suggested that comments Dole made earlier this week had raised "serious concerns" about his commitment to the anti-abortion cause.
On Sunday, Dole said he would not vote for a constitutional amendment banning all abortions because he supported exemptions in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother was at risk.