Ruling: N.J. postal worker can't run for House
By The Associated Press
NEWARK, N.J. A federal judge has ruled that Roger Merle cannot walk a mail route if he wants to run for office.
Merle is the Green Party candidate for Congress from the 2nd District, but letter carriers are among the millions of federal employees barred by the Hatch Act from seeking a partisan office.
The Cumberland County man does not want his candidacy to threaten his job or pension, so he is challenging the constitutionality of the law, which was enacted in the 1939 to prevent federal workers from becoming politicized.
Merle's lawsuit claimed the Hatch Act was unconstitutional because it sets requirements for the office of U.S. representative that are not found in the Constitution, and because it violates the First Amendment's free-speech and association guarantees.
U.S. District Judge Joseph E. Irenas sided with the Justice Department and rejected Merle's effort, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts have repeatedly found the Hatch Act does not create another requirement.
"Thus, while the Hatch Act will force Merle to choose between remaining in his position as a postal carrier and his desire to seek elective office, the need for this decision does not constitute an additional qualification for the office of representative and, consequently, the act does not run afoul of the Constitution," Irenas wrote in a six-page opinion.
The opinion, filed Sept. 5 and delivered to the parties this week, also noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has also rejected the First Amendment arguments offered by Merle.
Merle's lawyer, Bruce I. Afran, said they would seek an expedited appeal before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"His political rights are totally undermined by this law," Afran said yesterday. "This creates an impenetrable financial barrier for any federal employee who wants to run for office."
The Hatch Act barred federal workers from virtually all political activity aside from party membership. A 1993 revision removed many restrictions, but still forbids running for partisan office and raising funds.
The law bars Merle's boss from soliciting him for a political donation, but it also forces Merle to choose between continued employment and a House bid.
Merle, 50, of Bridgeton, carries mail in Vineland, and describes himself as a lifelong Democrat who lost faith during the 2000 presidential campaign.
The 2nd District race also includes Rep. Frank LoBiondo of Vineland, a Republican seeking his fifth term, and Democrat Steven Farkas of Smithville.
Afran was the Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate in 2000. He got 1.1% of the vote in the election, in which Democrat Jon Corzine prevailed.
N.J. postal worker claims law wrongly bars House run
Roger Merle's lawsuit argues Hatch Act violates free speech, association by preventing federal workers from seeking partisan office.