The 2016 presidential campaign is still being litigated – literally.
As Trump administration controversies command media attention, a little-noticed set of lawsuits against the Democratic Party continues to play out in the courts – including one claiming coordination with the Clinton campaign against Bernie Sanders amounted to election fraud.
The case being heard in a Florida courtroom dates back to last summer, when the Democrats were thrown into turmoil following the leak of documents that appeared to show some DNC officials sought to undermine Sanders in the party primary. Jared Beck, a Harvard law expert, shortly afterward filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of residents of 45 states against the DNC and former chairwomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The DNC has been trying for months to have the case dismissed, and scored a temporary victory last year when it was decided the plaintiffs had improperly filed paperwork.
Beck has been fighting the DNC every step of the way, and is demanding the party repay individuals and Sanders supporters for contributions made during the election, alleging misappropriation of funds.
“If we can’t trust the two political parties to run an election in a fair manner, who can we trust?” Beck told Fox News.
During the most recent hearing on April 25 before a judge in the southern district of Florida, the DNC made a strictly legal argument – one that surely would have rankled Sanders supporters.
Bruce Spiva, a lawyer for the DNC, argued in its motion to dismiss that the party holds the right to select its candidate any way it chooses and is not bound by pledges of fairness.
“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,” Spiva argued.
Although the Article 5, Section 4 of the Democratic Party charter stipulates that it will function with total neutrality during Democratic primaries, the DNC lawyer argued the promise was non-binding.
“And there's no right to not have your candidate disadvantaged or have another candidate advantaged. There's no contractual obligation here,” he said.
“This lawsuit has nothing to do with politics or political disagreements within the DNC. This case should concern everyone because it goes to the heart of the country’s democratic institutions,” Beck told Fox News.
A victory by Beck could have a profound impact on how the Democratic Party conducts business in 2020 and beyond. However, those familiar with election law say he faces an uphill climb.
“I don’t think it is going to amount to much,” said Michael Toner, a lawyer with the Wiley-Rein and a former legal counsel for the Republican National Committee.
“Courts don’t typically get in the middle of intraparty disputes and while I am sure the DNC does not appreciate having to fight this lawsuit, judges are very reluctant to exercise their jurisdiction over politics,” Toner said.
The DNC attorneys also contend the suit is meritless, arguing most Sanders donors do not even support the lawsuit.
“The vast majority of whom almost certainly do not share Plaintiffs’ political views—have no realistic means of disassociating from this action, brought in their name against the political party they likely support,” the DNC lawyers wrote in their motion.
Toner said the danger to the DNC would come if the lawsuit entered the discovery phase, which is why an affiliated case alleging the DNC failed to pay overtime wages poses a potentially greater threat.
The DNC this week filed a motion to dismiss in the second class-action lawsuit, which alleged workers at the Democratic National Convention and through the election were not paid a minimum wage, while others were refused overtime compensation guaranteed by federal and state law.
The 2016 Democratic platform characterized the current federal minimum of $7.25 per hour as “a starvation wage and must be increased to a living wage. No one who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty.”
The suit also names the Pennsylvania Democratic Party and others involved in the party's 2016 national convention in the lawsuit. The Pennsylvania Democratic Party did not return calls for comment.
“While the DNC was not the employer in this case, the DNC follows all employment and wage laws to make sure that everyone who works a full time job receives a fair wage,” DNC spokesman Michael Tyler said in a statement to Fox News.
Although the individuals participated in party-building activities, such as voter registration, soliciting volunteers and knocking on doors, the national party argues they were not officially DNC staff.
Justin Swidler, the lawyer behind the suit, told Fox News, “We believe in fair pay for fair work. The lawsuit seeks only that. We believe these ideals are consistent with the platform of the DNC.”
According to individuals familiar with the case, the DNC filed another motion to dismiss this week, but neither side anticipates a prompt resolution of the case given the court’s full docket.