Judge rules against state law on bound delegates
© Getty Images

A federal judge ruled in favor of a Republican delegate looking to free himself from Virginia laws that bound him to back a specific candidate at next week's convention, a narrow victory for the "Never Trump" forces, yet one that has no direct bearing on party rules.


Judge Robert Payne in Virginia's Eastern District Court ruled Monday afternoon that the state cannot punish GOP delegate Beau Correll if he votes for a different candidate on the convention floor. State and party laws had bound him on the first ballot to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE, who won the state’s March 1 primary.

Payne criticized the Virginia law binding delegates under threat of prosecution as a violation of Correll's First Amendment right to free speech and association.

The victory comes just days before the Republican National Convention rules committee is slated to meet in Cleveland, where a group of "Never Trump" delegates will push to slash party rules that force delegates to be bound to certain candidates.

That, they hope, would prompt a mass exodus from Trump and deny him the nomination, something they deem a necessary response to his controversial stances and comments, as well as unimpressive poll numbers.

Correll celebrated the decision in a statement circulated by Delegates Unbound, a group working to unbind convention delegates.

“Delegates are free to vote their conscience and no amount of intimidation by the Trump campaign or meddling by Democrats in the Republican process will change that fact,” Correll said. “Requiring delegates to vote for any candidate is unconstitutional and today’s announcement is a blow to Trump’s efforts."

But while Correll and other Virginia delegates will be freed from punishments under state law, the ruling does not have an impact on Republican Party rules.

The party is effectively a private club, one that mandates its delegates must vote to reflect the primary results in each state. So nothing about the case specifically compels the party to change its rules.

Sean Spicer, the chief strategist and the communications director with the RNC, claimed victory in tweets Monday afternoon, noting how the ruling does not affect actions by the party.

"Decision in Correll case upholds right of political parties to set rules for national convention delegate selection and allocation," he said.

But "Never Trump" supporters hope that the ruling could help convince delegates to join their cause — either because they no longer face threat of legal punishment in their home state or because they agree with the precedent set by the court that these types of laws do violate freedom of speech.

—Updated at 6:14 p.m.