Finally, a Lewis victory

Posted: September 14, 2011

A FEDERAL APPEALS court in Philadelphia

yesterday gave Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis a grand victory.

It ordered that Lewis' name be put back on the Nov. 8 ballot in South Jersey's 8th District state Senate race, reversing a ruling made a week ago by a U.S. district judge in Camden.

The swift decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit came just five hours after the three-judge panel heard arguments in the case ahead of election deadlines.

In a 2-to-1 ruling, Judge Thomas Ambro wrote that New Jersey "has failed to demonstrate a compelling state interest" in the application of Lewis' residency requirement.

The Third Circuit didn't actually resolve the issue of whether Lewis, who is running as a Democrat, would meet the four-year-residency requirement to run for senate.

Burlington County Republicans and state officials contend that he does not. Lewis' attorney, William Tambussi, contends that he has lived in New Jersey since 2005, first in a condo in Mount Laurel and then in a house in Medford that he closed on on Nov. 16, 2007. Tambussi contends that although Lewis sent in an absentee ballot in a California election in 2009, Lewis was living in New Jersey at the time.

But what seemed more important to the two judges in the majority opinion was whether Lewis knew the district's voters and issues.

Ambro hinted at that in his questioning yesterday of Donna Kelly, an assistant state attorney general, and of Mark Sheridan, an attorney representing Burlington County Republicans challenging Lewis' candidacy.

Ambro and Judge Thomas Vanaskie, who concurred in the majority ruling, were appointed by Democrats. Chief Judge Anthony Scirica, who dissented, is a Republican appointee.

The Burlington County Republican Committee yesterday said in a statement that the two judges who ruled in Lewis' favor "ignored longstanding legal precedent and tossed aside New Jersey's Constitution. Their decision effectively eliminates residency requirements to run for office in order to allow a wealthy celebrity on the ballot."

The Republicans added that they expect to appeal.

Tambussi said the "decision puts this matter with the voters of the 8th Legislative District, where it rightfully belongs. We are pleased that the voters now have a meaningful choice.

"Carl was just ecstatic with the result," he said. "It was a huge burden lifted off his shoulders."

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