Here's one of those overviews of the term ahead. Big generalizations. Presumptions that terms have themes and so forth. I prefer to focus on the individual cases as they come up. Today, for example is all about Washington State Grange v. Washington Republican Party and Washington v. Washington Republican Party. (That link is to ScotusWiki, an excellent outgrowth of Scotusblog, our favorite hangout when the Court is in session.)
Although the [Court in California Democratic Party v. Jones (2000)] struck down the partisan blanket primary, in dicta it endorsed a nonpartisan blanket primary that would allow top vote getters to advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation. A nonpartisan primary passed constitutional muster because primary voters would not be “choosing a party’s nominee.”
In September 2003, the Ninth Circuit held in Democratic Party of Washington v. Reed that Washington’s partisan blanket primary, which had been in effect since 1935, was “materially indistinguishable from the California scheme held to violate the constitutional right of free association in Jones.” In response, the Washington State Grange – a civic organization with roots as a nineteenth-century farm organization – rallied voters to enact (through an initiative) a modified blanket primary a year later. While under the invalidated system the top vote-getter from each party advanced to the general election as that party’s nominee, now the top two vote-getters for each office advance regardless of their party affiliation. However, candidates for “partisan” offices may indicate the party they “prefer”; if a preference is expressed, it appears on the ballots....
In resolving this case, the Court must balance the rights of states to regulate elections with the rights of political parties to refrain from associating with non-members. The Court’s judgment will ultimately depend on how it approaches the central question in this case: is Washington’s modified primary partisan because of its treatment of party preference, or nonpartisan because candidates advance to the general election without regard to party affiliation?