RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia delegate to the GOP national convention who opposes Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is hoping a favorable ruling on a legal challenge to state election law will serve as a last-minute spark to help dump the billionaire businessman as the party’s nominee.
Carroll Correll Jr. said Thursday outside a federal courthouse in Richmond that he hopes an upcoming ruling will send a message to other Republican delegates that they are free to pick someone besides Trump.
“As a party and as a nation, we could do a lot better than Donald Trump,” Correll said.
The Republican National Committee’s national convention is less than two week away, and Trump is the party’s presumptive nominee. But a diverse group of Trump opponents is still trying to find a way for the party to pick someone else.
In Correll’s case, he — with the backing of a nonprofit called the Citizens in Charge Foundation — is challenging a heretofore obscure part of Virginia election law that Correll says mandates all Virginia’s delegates to vote for Trump at the convention or face potential criminal charges.
“That is a clear violation of the First Amendment,” David Rivkin Jr., an attorney for Correll, said during a daylong hearing on Correll’s legal challenge.
The state party chose to award Virginia’s 49 delegates to the national convention proportionally based on the results of the March 1 primary. Trump won the primary with about 35 percent of the vote, netting 17 delegates during the first round of voting at the convention. Delegates are unbound if there is a second round of voting.
Rivkin said any delegate who does not vote for Trump in the first round could face criminal prosecution under state law, though Virginia Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring’s office said in court that no criminal charges would be filed based on any votes cast at the Republican national convention.
Judge Robert E. Payne appeared sympathetic to Correll’s challenge that the state law as written was unconstitutional, but Payne also signaled that he had no desire to get involved in a broader debate about whether Republican delegates were bound at all by the results of this year’s primary.
At Thursday’s hearing, Correll’s legal team called as its only expert witness North Dakota RNC member Curly Haugland, who has long insisted that under current rules delegates are free to back anyone. The legal team representing Trump supporters in Virginia called Jesse Binnall, who has been hired as a parliamentary procedure expert by the Trump campaign. Binnall testified that Haugland’s opinion was in the minority among Republicans who set convention rules.
Payne is expected to issue a decision next week.
Former Virginia Chief Deputy Attorney General Chuck James, who watched the hearing, said Payne is likely to issue a ruling limited to whether the state law is constitutional and has “little to no bearing on how the party conducts its affairs.”