Federal Judge Upholds Casino Caucus Sites

U.S. District Judge James Mahan ruled against the Nevada State Education Association and other plaintiffs seeking to eliminate nine-casino based at-large precincts for Saturday's presidential preference caucuses.

Mahan told a packed courtroom on that "I don't think it's up to me to second guess" the legally established right of state and national parties to establish rules for presidential caucuses. "That's why we have political parties," Mahan said. "It's a vital part of who we are as Americans. These are vital issues."

Mahan invited the Nevada Democratic Party and the state education association to reach an out-of-court compromise on participation for custodians and other support personnel to participate in caucuses held at schools they must open and supervise.

Jill Derby, chairman of the Nevada Democratic Party, told reporters after Mahan's ruling there would be no compromise. "There will be no change in the process," Derby said. "We believe this is a fair allocation and we're very committed to it."

Derby said Democrats would unite in the aftermath of the ruling, even though the lawsuit exposed rifts in the party and was widely seen as a proxy war between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's presidential campaigns.

The lawsuit was filed two days after the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 endorsed Barack Obama. The plaintiffs did not formally endorse Clinton's campaign, but senior members of the Nevada State Education Association back Hillary and the law firm that handled the suit has as one of its prominent attorneys former Democratic congressman Jim Bilbray, a Clinton supporter.

'"I don't think it's been helpful," Derby said of the antagonism the suit generated between the Clinton and Obama camps. "But we'll pull together."

Lynn Warne, president of the teachers union, said she was "disappointed" in the ruling because she said it created an unfair opportunity for casino shift workers represented by Culinary to participate in the Saturday caucuses at the special at-large sites while other workers -- specifically her janitors -- would have to return to their neighborhood-based precincts to participate, something they cannot do while they supervise caucus activities at the schools where they serve as janitors.

Derby said the party established the casino-based caucus sites to assist tens of thousands of workers participate.

The caucus rules were first established by the state Democratic party in March and formally approved by the Democratic National Committee in October. During the court hearing today, the DNC said if the nine at-large caucus sites were abolished Nevada might lose all of its presidential nominating delegates.

Mark Ferrario, the attorney who represented the teachers union and other plaintiffs, told reporters he was not sure if an appeal will be filed.