The Kansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that the state must remove the name of the Democratic candidate running against Republican Sen. Pat Roberts from the November ballot, adding another twist to a now-hotly contested race.
The court's decision leaves independent Greg Orman, who has been rising in the polls, as the only major opponent currently in the running to take on the 78-year-old incumbent.
The court agreed with Democrat Chad Taylor, saying his formal letter of withdrawal to the secretary of state's office was sufficient to get his name off the ballot.
The court also said it did not "need to act" regarding Secretary of State Kris Kobach's "allegation" that the Democratic party must name a new candidate for the race. Kobach said earlier Thursday that the Democratic Party is legally obligated to pick a new nominee and set a Sept. 26 deadline.
The Roberts campaign has repeatedly accused Democrats of playing dirty politics after national Democrats such as Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill reportedly nudged Taylor out of the race earlier this month to make way for Orman.
Roberts' campaign manager Corry Bliss said in a statement the court's decision is deliberately disenfranchising "over 65,000 voters" for "political purposes."
"In a bow to Senators Claire McCaskill and Harry Reid, liberal activist Supreme Court justices have decided that if you voted in the Democrat Primary on August 5th, your vote does not matter, your voice does not matter, and you have no say in who should be on the ballot on Election Day," he said. "This is not only a travesty to Kansas voters, but it’s a travesty to the judicial system and our electoral process."
The National Republican Senatorial Committee also decried the decision, saying the Democratic party now has a "clear legal obligation" to name a new candidate.
"Greg Orman and his liberal friends like Barack Obama might not like it, but they have to abide by the law just like everyone else," spokesman Brad Dayspring said.
Orman's campaign manager said in response to the decision Orman would run against a broken political system no matter how many candidates were on the ballot.
"Kansas voters from across the political spectrum are fed up with the mess in Washington, and that's why Republicans, Democrats and independents are supporting Independent Greg Orman for Senate," Jim Jonas said.
Taylor announced his withdrawal earlier this month, but Kobach, a conservative Republican publicly backing Roberts, declared that Taylor didn't comply with a state election law limiting when nominees can withdraw. Taylor petitioned the Supreme Court to remove his name from the ballot.
Kansas law says party nominees can have their names removed from the ballot if they declare that they'll be incapable of fulfilling the duties of the offices they seek. Taylor's letter said that he was leaving the race "pursuant to" the relevant law but did not say why, and he's never publicly given a reason for dropping out.
"We conclude the plain meaning of 'pursuant to (the law)' contained in Taylor's letter effectively declares he is incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected," the justices said.
Kobach argued that Taylor must explain himself, even if he simply says he can't serve as a senator, without giving more details.
Republicans need to gain six Senate seats to take the majority from Democrats and Kansas is one of about a dozen races nationally that could determine the outcome.
Kobach had said a quick decision was needed because ballots need to be printed Friday.
In another wrinkle, a registered Democratic voter in the state filed a new petition with the Kansas Supreme Court Thursday night asking it to force the party to name a new nominee.
David Orel of Kansas City, Kansas, filed the petition after his attorney sent the party a letter saying Orel wants to vote for a Democratic candidate.
The Associated Press contributed to this report