Appeals Court Hears Kucinich's Texas Ballot Case

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The Texas Democratic Party asked a federal appeals court Monday to uphold its right to impose a loyalty oath on candidates seeking the party's nomination, a requirement challenged by former Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

The party says it has a right to require Democratic candidates to pledge to "fully support" the party's eventual nominee. The Ohio congressman claims the rule violates his First Amendment right to free speech and says it shouldn't be a requirement for qualifying for the ballot.

"It's a ballot access case," Donald McTigue, a lawyer for Kucinich, told the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. "If you don't take the oath, you don't get on the ballot."

A ruling from the three-judge panel could take several months.

Chad Dunn, a party lawyer, said the oath sends a message that the party's "group ideals" are more important than candidates' individual interests.

"It's about the policy interests of the party," Dunn said, noting that Kucinich didn't object to signing the same oath during his 2004 presidential campaign.

"That requirement to fully support (the nominee) goes too far in serving that party interest," McTigue countered.

The U.S. Supreme Court allowed Texas to print its ballots for the March presidential primary without including Kucinich's name.

Kucinich abandoned his second presidential campaign in late January, shortly after a federal judge ruled that the state Democratic Party has a right to impose the oath.

McTigue said his client supports Barack Obama's presidential campaign but believes that "men of honor can agree to disagree on certain things."

"Continuing with this case is really a matter of principle at this point," he said.

Country singer Willie Nelson, a Kucinich supporter, also is a plaintiff in the case.