The Democratic National Committee is currently defending itself in court against a lawsuit brought by Bernie Sanders supporters over the Democratic presidential primary process. And the proceedings, including an April 25 hearing in which the party argued the case should be dismissed, are already becoming quite amusing.
As Michael Sainato puts it in the Observer, "lawyers representing the DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz double[d] down on arguments confirming the disdain the Democratic establishment has toward Bernie Sanders supporters and any entity challenging the party's status quo."
This lawsuit's merits are dubious, it should be noted from the outset. The courts would set an unfortunate precedent if they started dictating how the political parties are governed and how they choose their candidates — it veers dangerously close to the political question doctrine.
It would be even worse if they bought into Sanders' supporters arguments that the party has a "fiduciary duty" to its contributors. If the false appearance of a fair primary process represents some kind of fraud on Bernie Sanders supporters who contributed to the DNC, then surely we're going to see a rash of lawsuits against the RNC after Mexico fails to pay for the Trump border wall, or President Trump fails to fulfill any of the other unrealistic promises he made during the campaign.
Still, it's always fun to see lawyers make arguments in court hearings that are clearly at odds with what their clients are trying to project in real life. Recall, for example, when Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued before the Supreme Court that Obamacare is a tax — something President Obama and Democrats had repeatedly denied when they passed it. Or Alex Jones' child custody case, in which he argued that his highly lucrative conspiracy-mongering on-air persona is all just an act.
This is a bit like that. In this case, DNC lawyers argue that they don't owe anyone a fair process, and that the rules in their charter are basically not binding in court. In fact, if they wanted, DNC attorney Bruce Spiva argued, they could choose their nominee in a smoke-filled back room and it still wouldn't be legally actionable. The transcription of the April 25 hearing quotes Spiva as follows:
"[I]f you had a charity where somebody said, Hey, I'm gonna take this money and use it for a specific purpose, X, and they pocketed it and stole the money, of course that's different. But here, where you have a party that's saying, We're gonna, you know, choose our standard bearer, and we're gonna follow these general rules of the road, which we are voluntarily deciding, we could have — and we could have voluntarily decided that, Look, we're gonna go into back rooms like they used to and smoke cigars and pick the candidate that way. That's not the way it was done. But they could have. And that would have also been their right, and it would drag the Court well into party politics, internal party politics to answer those questions."
This is probably a sound legal argument, but it's also probably not what Sanders' supporters want to hear right now, with a new chairman having taken the reins and promised a more inclusive process.
This isn't the only fun lawsuit going on right now against the DNC. Another, which might actually have some legs, has been brought by several campaign staff from the election that just ended. The lawsuit alleges that the DNC refuses the pay them overtime. That case is still quietly moving through the system, with new filings due this week.