Supreme Court Explains Why Kanye West Couldn’t Run for President in Arizona

Today the Arizona Supreme Court issued its full opinion in Clayton v. West, which involved Kanye West’s erstwhile presidential campaign from 2020. The full opinion provides the Supreme Court’s reasoning for affirming the trial court’s issuance of an injunction precluding West and his presidential electors from appearing on the ballot.

West ran as an independent candidate for President pursuant to A.R.S. § 16-341. West was required to collect nomination petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, but in reality, an independent candidate like West must collect signatures for his 11 designated presidential electors. Those electors’ names collectively appear in the caption of each nomination petition form. West collected the requisite number of signatures and timely filed the petitions with the Secretary of State.

But West was challenged on two principal grounds. First, the plaintiff alleged that West’s and various electors’ registration status as Republicans precluded their ability to run an independent candidacy. Second, the plaintiff argued that the presidential electors were required to each file a “statement of interest” with the Secretary of State as a prerequisite to signature collection. The trial court agreed that West’s party registration status precluded his candidacy. The court also found the “status of his presidential elections [was] problematic,” but did not expressly hold that a statement of interest was legally required.

The Supreme Court affirmed a few days later, but based its terse decision order solely on the statement of interest deficiency. The Supreme Court cited A.R.S. § 16-341(I):

Not later than the date of the first petition signature on a nomination petition, a person who may be a candidate for office pursuant to this section shall file a statement of interest with the appropriate filing officer for that office. The statement of interest shall contain the name of the person, the political party, if any, and the name of the office that may be sought. Any nomination petition signatures collected before the date the statement of interest is filed are invalid and subject to challenge.

However, the Court did not address the exception outlined in subsection I:

This subsection does not apply to:

1. Candidates for elected office for special taxing districts that are established pursuant to title 48, chapters 2, 3, 11, 12, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 27 and 32.

2. Candidates for precinct committeeman.

3. Candidates for president or vice president of the United States.

Today the Supreme Court relied on the distinction between “candidates for president” – which are referenced in subsection I – and presidential electors, which are not referenced in the statutory exemption. Accordingly, the presidential electors must file statements of interest just like any other Arizona candidates running for office.

Future independent presidential candidates, as rare as they may be, are now on notice.

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